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Published 2011 by Prometheus Books 

Hitler: Beyond Evil and Tyranny. Copyright © 201 1 by R. H. S. Stolfi. All rights reserved. No 
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Cover image © Library of Congress 
Cover design by Grace M. Conti- Zilsberger 

Dedication painting, Honor the memory, Kathryn A. Stolfi, 1931—2010, She faced death Sans Peur, 
She lived her life Sans Reproche, She was a heroine for the ages, by Sam Harris. 

Inquiries should be addressed to 

Prometheus Books 
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Stolfi, R. H. S. (Russel H. S.), 1932- 

Hitler : beyond evil and tyranny / by R. H. S. Stolfi. 
p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 978-1-61614—474—6 (doth : acid-free paper) 

ISBN 978-1-61614-475-3 (ebook) 

1. Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945. 2. Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945— Psychology. 

3. Personality and politics — Germany — Case studies. 4. Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945 — 
Childhood and youth. 5. World War, 1914— 1918 — Influence. 6. Heads of state — 
Germany — Biography. 7. Germany — History — 1933—1945. 8. Germany — History — 
1918-1933. 9. National socialism — History. I. Title. 

DD247.H5S777 2011 
943.086092— dc23 

[B] 2011023930 

Every attempt has been made to trace accurate ownership of copyrighted material in this 
book. Errors and omissions will be corrected in subsequent editions, provided that notifi- 
cation is sent to the publisher. 

Honor the Memory 

Kathryn A. Stolfi 


She faced death 
Sans Peur 
She lived her life 
Sans Reproche 
She was a heroine 
for the ages 


Introduction 9 

Chapter 1 

Hitler’s Attributes Reassessed 49 

Chapter 2 

Hitler as a Product of His Times 109 

Chapter 3 

Out of the Desert, 1919-1922 149 

Chapter 4 

Setback, Perseverance, and Infallibility, 1923-1929 189 

Chapter 5 

Old Fighters, New Converts, 

Decisive Success, 1929-1932 231 

Chapter 6 

Triumph of a Messiah wit hi n Germany, 1933—1934 277 

Chapter 7 

Arrival of a World-Historical 

Personality in Europe, 1935-1936 311 



Chapter 8 

Redeemer of the Germans, 1937-1939 


Chapter 9 

The Siege of Germany 







A fter half a century, no biographer or historian has put 
together an adequate interpretation of Adolf Hitler. Since 
Hitler can be acknowledged to have been the most significant figure 
of the twentieth century, how is such a situation possible? The 
answer may be that the hunt for Hitler has been for the wrong man 
in the wrong historical background. The hunt has been for a political 
animal in the guise of a wicked man who engaged in evil deeds. But 
the intellectual expeditions both great and small to capture Hitler 
have been seeking the wrong quarry in the wrong landscape. Hitler 
was neither a politician nor engaged in politics. And he cannot be 
considered to have believed that he was a wicked man perpetrating 
evil deeds. Hitler had the intense psychological makeup of a 
prophetically styled messiah — one whose office he believed was to 
reveal a message of salvation to the Germans and to become the 
savior-hero himself. The landscape through which he moved was that 
of a Germany defeated in war and a European continent dominated 
by France. To think of Hitler as a German politician engaged in 
national politics would be like thinking of the quintessential Prophet 
Muhammad as an Arab politician engaged in similar political 
endeavors. Both must be comprehended as intense visionaries with 
their feet planted firmly several feet above the ground, in their own 
worlds of self-inspired revelation. Both achieved astonishing political 
results, but neither can be understood as a political ideologue. 




Hitler brought more to the great messianic dance of the interwar 
period than the conventional wisdom has seen fit to accept. Under- 
estimated by competitor and enemy contemporaneously and by 
biographers and historians since, he possessed traits unlike those of 
any other significant political figure of the era. Along with the inten- 
sity, seriousness, and earnestness that underpinned him as a self- 
professed messiah, he brought artistic qualities of brilliance in archi- 
tecture, competence in painting, and the interest of a cognoscente in 
classical music. Based partly on this artistic makeup, he was char- 
acterized by extraordinary imagination and a lack of sense of pro- 
portion that would not allow him to embrace half-solutions to 
challenges. Thrown into this unlikely mix of traits and talents was a 
kind of lazy indolence that has confounded his biographers and baf- 
fled his contemporaries. In photographs that exist from World War I, 
he appears as dreamy visionary and fanatic adversary, pale and 
wrapped within an emaciated frame. Perhaps most interesting is 
that, in some of his photographs, his right eye seems to stare at 
something out of the picture and in another universe. 

Writers throughout the world have put together a vast body of 
literature on Hitler and have used an even larger body of primary 
source material to buttress it. Against such a background, this book 
uses the following structure to extract a fresh interpretation of 
Hitler the person. First, because it is unlikely that any significant 
new primary source material will be found, this book does not search 
for it. Second, because another descriptive biography of Hitler 
would be an exercise in dullness, this book concentrates on inter- 
pretation. Overlying the literature on Hitler, there exists the great 
biographies that pull together most things on him that, because of 
their quality, comprehensiveness, and availability, dominate the 
worldview. The great biographers include, at least, Alan Bullock 
(1953), Werner Maser (1973), Joachim Fest (1974), John Toland 
(1976), and Ian Kershaw (1998), and their works hold the conven- 
tional wisdom on Hitler. 1 Because I have weighed the great biogra- 
phies on the scales of historical reality and found them wanting, the 



book that follows will present a counterbalancing portrait of Hitler 
and a contrasting view of his times. 

Virtually every literary piece written about Adolf Hitler in the 
more than half century since 1945 has been based on antipathy. In a 
seemingly boundless corpus of writing, every work from the mighty 
to the insignificant is fundamentally similar in its common revulsion 
for the man and his national movement. In the most recent great 
biography, Professor Ian Kershaw begins and ends with detestation. 
His work is skilled and often brilliant, but he fails to inform the 
reader of certain characteristics indispensable for true comprehen- 
sion of the man, and he underestimates the importance of the 
postwar conditions inflicted by the Allies on Germany, which con- 
tributed to Hitler’s rise. Bullock, Fest, and Kershaw ascribe criminal 
features to Hitler’s foreign policy from 1933 through 1939, but they 
fail to correlate it realistically with the Allied imposition of the Ver- 
sailles Treaty — the ultimate manifestation of German defeat and 
Allied victory following World War I. The biographers then create, 
during the period 1939 through 1945, an interpretation of the course 
of World War II and Hitler’s conduct of it that fails to correspond 
with the German leader’s actual intentions and the realistic possibil- 
ities for German victory. 

In the present situation, the reading public has been served only 
half a portrait of the great tyrant of the twentieth century. The sit- 
uation is an extraordinary one in which Hitler, as an object of biog- 
raphy, is portrayed as base and depraved, and the chain of foreign 
policy events of the 1930s leading into World War II is presented as 
largely the result of the machinations of this evil man. With Hitler, 
the perceived danger is that biography demands, or at least suggests, 
some empathy with its subject and a resulting understanding — and 
even admiration. 2 The writers on the subject of Hitler have taken 
the view that rehabilitation is unthinkable, and in such a situation, 
they have presented verbal portraits that are either half empty or but 
lightly sketched-in. In the former case, we glimpse the antipathetic 
half of the verbal canvas with the remaining half empty. In the latter, 



we observe the entire face but see an image with half the clarifying 
lines missing. 

Just what do we have, therefore, with half a biographical portrait 
and, more specifically, the damning half? Kershaw suggests that there 
is no other half and that Hitler as an individual human being was base 
and wicked, and that most acts attributed to him were grounded in 
evil. A middle ground would be that half a portrait of Hitler is better 
than none at all, with the sense that the remaining half would little 
change the picture. One thesis of this book, however, is that half a 
portrait of Hitler tells us little about the man as a human being and 
presents a distorted and incredible interpretation of his actions as 
creator of National Socialism and leader of Germany. 

One fundamental disparagement laid by biographers of Hitler is 
that he was an “unperson.” Kershaw, for example, asks his readers: 
“How do we explain how someone with so few intellectual gifts and 
social attributes, someone no more than an empty vessel outside of 
his political life . . . could make the entire world hold its breath?” 3 He 
continues in an unequivocal judgment that “[Hitler] was as has been 
frequently said, tantamount to an ‘unperson!’” 4 Biographers seem to 
be telling readers what Hitler ought to have been in the style of 
politicians in the experienced, parliamentary-styled, victorious 
Allied states — especially France and Britain. 

Notably, however, the writers in these established democracies 
and others like the United States denigrate Hitler for his lack of 
formal education, his rude family environment, and his exaggerated 
dreams of success. Ironically, these characteristics read like the semi- 
mythical “American dream” wherein the young man with limited 
formal education, rude background, and dreams of success triumphs. 
But Hitler is noted as being an unperson because of these same char- 
acteristics, which allegedly made him incapable of embracing sub- 
stantial interests beyond political propaganda and robbed him of a 
realistic and healthy sense of proportion. Writers on the subject of 
Hitler and National Socialism develop a theme that, as the most 
common of Germans, he resonated effectively in the hearts and 



minds of the German masses. This equation — Hitler’s commonness 
equals natural empathy with the equally common German voting 
masses — is an enticing one. The biographers, starting with antipathy 
for Hitler, can scarcely be expected to search out evidence that 
reduces the preconceptions of commonness, evil, and neurosis. Biog- 
raphers succumb to the temptation to present a melange of denigra- 
tion and demand that we accept it for a man of obvious talent in pol- 
itics both domestic and foreign, talent in various fine arts and special 
capabilities as a frontline soldier in World War I. The denigration, 
which is contrived at worst and strained at best, tells much about the 
Hitler biographers. It shows that they have chosen to place a cloak of 
selective invisibility over interests and talents that conflict with their 
denigrating portrait. But how can one take such an interpretation 
seriously when, for example, in a first-hand repentance for his associ- 
ation with Hitler and National Socialism, the erstwhile young archi- 
tect Albert Speer could comment: 

In conferring with me over plans, Hitler perpetually drew sketches 
of his own. They were casually tossed off but accurate in perspec- 
tive; he drew outlines, cross sections, and renderings to scale. An 
architect could not have done better . 5 


Hitler declared again and again: “How I wish I had been an archi- 
tect:” ... I sometimes ask myself whether Hitler would have for- 
saken his political career if in the early twenties he had met a 
wealthy client willing to employ him as an architect. But at 
bottom, I think, his sense of political mission and his passion for 
architecture were always inseparable . 6 

Speer’s words carry great weight. Stemming from their mutual 
enthusiasm for architecture, not only did Speer get as close to Hitler 
as any man, but he was also a formally educated professional of 
imagination and taste, a superb organizer of grand projects, and a 



winner of prestigious architectural awards including, for example, a 
Grand Prix at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair for his model of a Nurem- 
berg Party Day rally site. As Speer’s “client,” Hitler had had the taste 
to approve the plans for the Paris project two years earlier. His con- 
suming passion for architecture is illustrated by the following scene 
recounted by Speer on the day of the approval of the plans: “That 
evening Adjutant Brueckner telephoned me. ‘You and your god- 
dammed plans! Couldn’t they keep? The Fuehrer didn’t close an eye 
last night, he was so excited. Next time have the goodness to ask me 
first?”’ 7 The above picture does not sit comfortably with the opinio 
communis that alleges Hitler to have been a crude, empty vessel. 

Through some similar incalculable process involving some com- 
bination of genetics and environment, he would develop an intense 
affinity for music — especially nineteenth century grand opera in the 
manner of Richard Wagner. With astonishing intensity, the young 
Hitler would pursue musical performances in the period 1905-1914 
and during those times when he was on leave during World War I. In 
the interwar period he would be introduced into the Wagner house- 
hold and associated with the great Bayreuth opera festivals. Hitler 
would also earn a modest living through landscape and cityscape 
painting in the period 1910—1914, carry his paints and brushes with 
him in a frontline infantry regiment during the Great War, and 
reveal an extraordinary interest in painting and sculpture after his 
seizure of power in 1933. He would also dictate official German 
taste in painting in the late 1930s. 

Hitler’s biographers have also broadened his historical shoulders 
to unrealistically large proportions. This broadening has taken place 
in a pattern that has prevented effective interpretation of the more 
important foreign policy events of the 1930s and the outbreak and 
course of World War II. A historical entity, “the German people,” 
has been indicted accurately and plausibly for its role in the rise of 
Hitler. Another historical entity, “the German generals,” has been 
accused by writers of having deflected blame for the loss of World 
War II away from itself and onto Hitler. Most important, however, 



yet another historical entity, “the Allies,” has rendered itself histor- 
ically invisible, escaping with little blame for the approach and out- 
break of World War 11 except for the standard picture of naivete and 
patient endurance of diplomatic aggression. As a noted British his- 
torian has described: “It was Hitler’s war, he wanted it, planned it, 
and he started it.” 8 This remarkable statement has lain unchallenged 
for decades even though it must be evident that “it was France’s vic- 
torious peace, France wanted it, France planned it to dominate con- 
tinental Europe and it led directly into World War II.” 9 

The Germans themselves must shoulder the responsibility for 
the loss of World War I, and the French must acknowledge that 
through some combination of skill and luck, they managed to come 
out on the winning side in a coalition of Allies in which Britain was 
indispensable, Russia absorbed casualties, and the United States was 
responsible, in the final analysis, for tipping the balance toward vic- 
tory. The point for a Hitler biography is that the loss of World War 
I by Germany, more than anything else, constituted the times neces- 
sary for the rise to power of a Hitler-like figure. The Allies had full 
freedom of political maneuver at the end of the war to bring about 
a stable Europe based on their military victory. They had the oppor- 
tunity, initiative, and armed power to negotiate or impose a peace 
that would have reduced German revanchism to manageable pro- 
portions in the postwar era. But France and its allies, Britain and the 
United States, set no such peace in place. Instead, they inflicted one 
on Europe that led through its self-serving excesses to the outbreak 
of World War II. A recipe for disaster was drawn up, dominated by 
three ingredients: France, the outcome of World War I, and Hitler. 

The most recent great biography of Hitler has been acclaimed 
by reviewers as the classic Hitler biography of our time and one of 
its greatest scholarly and biographical achievements. 10 It has pulled 
together everything preceding it and can claim to be definitive in its 
description. The main caveat to the latest biography’s astounding 
descriptive breadth and depth lies in caution about the interpretive 
thesis that drives the work. Kershaw opens his “cool, judicious, fac- 



tually reliable, and intelligently argued ” 11 two-thousand-page work 
with an all-encompassing positioning of Hitler in world history, 
gracefully expressed as reflecting on Hitler the person. The reflec- 
tions, however, do not place Hitler anywhere because the author 
posits that “the issue of ‘greatness’” should be avoided altogether and 
holds forth that “it is a red herring,” misconstrued, pointless, irrele- 
vant, and potentially apologetic . 12 The author demands that we turn 
our attention to another question, one he claims to be of far greater 
importance. The question he poses is how an “unperson” such as 
Hitler made the entire world gasp. Kershaw’s answer is comprehen- 
sive to the point of being definitive but, in the final analysis, lacking. 

For Kershaw, the task of the Hitler biographer is to focus not on 
the personality of the man but on the character and the derivation 
of his power. The author elaborates with profound insight that 
Hitler’s “entire being came to be subsumed within the role he played 
to perfection: the role of the Fuehrer .” 13 Finally, Kershaw draws his 
arguments together by postulating that Hitler derived power from 
what he saw as his historic mission to save Germany. In Kershaw’s 
view, such power depended upon the readiness of others to see 
heroic qualities in Hitler . 14 On the verge of developing those quali- 
ties of personality that defined Hitler and made the world hold its 
breath, the author perseveres unfortunately in his earlier announced 
intention to concentrate on the integration of the actions of Hitler 
“into the political structure and social forces which conditioned his 
acquisition and exercise of power .” 15 The author, in effect, ends his 
reflections on Hitler by informing us that he is really going to pro- 
duce an understanding of the phenomenon of Nazism, accomplish 
this by concentrating on the dictatorship rather than on the dictator, 
and also do justice to “the Hitler factor .” 16 

As convoluted as this approach is to a work that has Hitler as the 
operative word in the title, the author nevertheless produces a mag- 
nificent portrait with special emphasis on the way in which Hitler 
wielded power. But why the extraordinary convolution? The answer 
to this question draws together the great biographies because they 



share antipathy for Hitler and an exaggerated fear of apologia. The 
great biographers take excessive liberties in denigrating his person, 
and, in doing so, they make it difficult to comprehend him. The 
common bias — contempt for the subject of the biography and a kind 
of arrogant fear of presenting any interpretation that might lead to 
greater comprehension but could also be construed as apologia — 
invites an analogy between biography and war fighting. The most 
notable soldier of the last half of the nineteenth century, Count 
Helmut von Moltke the Elder (1800—1891), commented that in war 
an error in the initial disposition of forces can never be made good. 
The Hitler biographers dispose of their interpretive intellectual 
forces with a bias that can never be made good. The result: thanks, 
ironically, to the historical greatness of the subject, powerful minds 
gripped by a preconceived picture of evil have produced brilliant 
biographies . . . and every single one falls short of producing an ade- 
quate understanding of Hitler as a historical person. To this point in 
time, the biographers have lost the biographical war. 

In emphasizing Hitler as a man bent on aggrandizement of 
power rather than concentrating on the vision that drove his accu- 
mulation of power, the biographers steer us away from historical 
analogy as a tool for comprehending him. How can we make a 
potentially useful analogy between another historical figure such as 
a Gaius Julius Caesar and a Hitler, for example, if we expect to be 
scolded by writers for not emphasizing how the latter wielded power 
even though we might have attempted to compare them usefully in 
terms of similarly great achievements? In one “of the maybe half 
dozen books on Caesar that are worth reading,” 17 the author posits 
that Caesar, although an outsider to late republican Roman politics, 
through astounding personal achievement: added all of Gaul to 
Rome; seized power in the capital; defeated his opponents in a great 
civil war; and consolidated Roman power in a vastly extended area. 
Hitler was also an outsider, as an Austrian alien in Germany, and, 
similar to Caesar, would “seize power,” add immensely to German 
territory from 1933 through 1942, and wield power as Fuehrer sim- 



ilar to the way Caesar wielded it as de facto emperor by 44 BCE. The 
two historical figures were also favored by social and political 
upheaval after World War I in Europe and in Rome during the twi- 
light of the republic. The conditions for both men furnished oppor- 
tunity for the exercise of personality. 

It is difficult to imagine a Caesar or a Hitler without their sur- 
rounding heroically proportioned crises. In comparing the two for 
the specific purpose of comprehending the latter, we see Otto Seel 
in his “Essay on Caesar” remark about “the interplay between the 
compulsively fascinating and the disturbing, between the charisma 
with the daemonia that must have emanated from [Caesar], whom 
hardly anyone could resist.” 18 We are compelled to see similar ele- 
ments of charisma and daemonia — the presence of extraordinary 
genius — in Hitler and can be advised that another compelling his- 
torical figure has been branded similarly. Such observations about a 
historical figure with notable impact on world history are useful for 
comprehending Hitler, and it is evident that his achievements invite 

Caesar, of course, stands as the more attractive man in terms of 
his family antecedents, classical learning, and towering intellect — 
and yet Caesar also seems to escape the shadow of mass murder that 
envelops Hitler. Even here, however, Caesar stands as one of the 
harder men in history to study, and virtually every biographer has 
been troubled by Caesar’s ferocious determination to conquer and 
pacify the enormous area of Gaul and “Germany” to the Rhine 
River. Caesar is said to have defeated, in the ten years of the Gallic 
Wars, three million armed men — a third of whom were killed while 
another third were sold into slavery. Among the civilians — the 
women, the children, and the aged — casualties are estimated at one 
million human beings sold into slavery or killed. Although per- 
sonally more attractive and accomplished than Hitler, Caesar 
comfortably holds his own in the balance of horror associated with 
the achievements of the great military and political leaders of his- 
tory. Similar to Hitler, Caesar seems to have been driven by some- 



thing in his personality that demanded greater achievement and 
higher stakes. It is blindness that destroys men, and it is stated that 
“there is in them an instinct, favored by their nature and strength- 
ened by custom, which they do not resist, and which drives them on 
while they have any strength left .” 19 Both Caesar and Hitler had a 
similar lack of sense of proportion. Both were afflicted by boundless 
ambition, revered the grandiose, defeated everyone, and yet shared 
endings in defeat — the one by assassination, the other by suicide in 
the midst of a crushing military loss. 

But trying to get at Hitler by placing him alongside an allegedly 
similar great man has almost inherent drawbacks. How can we com- 
pare Hitler with a man who is credited with affecting a rebirth of 
Rome and Hellenism “by preventing the Germans from overrunning 
Rome and winning time for Greek culture to permeate the western 
half of the Mediterranean ?” 20 The man who achieved this has claim 
to be the complete man, combining creativity and intellect with 
enough breadth to reconcile the Roman and Greek accomplish- 
ments within himself and communicate them to a wider world . 21 He 
has been called “perhaps the most gifted of mortals. Compared with 
him all others who have been called great were one-sided .” 22 We see 
unparalleled human greatness in Caesar and must find it difficult 
even to attempt to place Hitler alongside such greatness. The lack of 
human or personal greatness in Hitler is deepened by the hyperbole 
used by his biographers in describing the “emptiness of the private 
person He was tantamount to an ‘unperson’ . . . the vulgar, unedu- 

cated upstart lacking a rounded personality, the outsider with half- 
baked opinions on everything under the sun, the uncultured adjudi- 
cator on culture .” 23 These words are at least mildly exaggerated 
because they do not take account of Hitler’s consuming interest and 
skill in the fine arts, but they picture a considerable distance between 
Hitler and Caesar in private, personal qualities. 

We must face the reality, nevertheless, that Hitler had more 
impact on the course of the twentieth century than any other man. 
“He is one of the few individuals of whom it can be said with cer- 



tainty: without him, the course of world history would have been 
different.” 24 Faced with these interpretive truths, writers who are 
about to die in the arena of Hitler biography had better be prepared 
to come up with an adequate explanation of his greatness. Reality in 
the comprehending of Hitler demands that writers overcome the 
fear of being branded as “an apologist.” Comprehension also 
demands that writers extricate themselves from the style of exces- 
sive disparagement to arrive at a more realistic view. Perhaps more 
than any other biographical vehicle, the concept of historical great- 
ness — not personal greatness, attractiveness, and so on — permits us 
to sort out Hitler as a historical personage. When we see Hitler as 
great based on his historical achievements and their impact on the 
world, we can compare and contrast him with the right running 
mates in history for comprehension rather than criticism. 

One biographer contrasts him disparagingly with such twentieth 
century denizens as Roosevelt, Churchill, Kennedy, and Mandela — 
specifically noting that these other figures symbolize the “positive 
values” of the century. It could be noted, though, from the perspective 
of historical greatness, that there must be some combination of unhis- 
torical bias and presumption to place a Kennedy and a Mandela along- 
side of a Hitler, Roosevelt, or Churchill — notwithstanding the per- 
sonal attractiveness of the former and the je ne sais quoi of the latter. 25 
The whole business becomes even more intriguing when the great 
biographers state unequivocally that Hitler was a man of inconse- 
quential paltriness and had no life outside of politics in the period 
from 1919 through 1945. The biographers do not grant a hint of per- 
sonal greatness for Hitler, and we are left to discover in “politics” any 
claim that he may have to historical greatness. And to compound the 
intrigue, the biographers note that the only thing he did really well in 
politics was to propagandize through the spoken word. 26 We are left, 
as a result, with an unperson devoid of a life outside of politics. To 
compound this emptiness, the biographers inform us that politics for 
him was propaganda and not the vast field of action suggested by his 
words — namely, the art of the possible. 27 



How can we compare a man with talent largely only in political 
propaganda with figures such as Caesar and Napoleon with their 
comprehensive achievements in Rome and Europe? Hitler’s histor- 
ical achievements and impact remain at the level of such men, but 
his personality traits, dominated by seriousness, earnestness, and 
accompanying remoteness from all other human beings and pulled 
together in a distant vision of a perfect Reich, do not add up to the 
practice of politics. Contemporaries of Hitler in the initial stages of 
the movement noted behavior traits of asceticism, dysfunctional 
intensity, total disregard for matters of practical politics such as 
administration and organization, utter consistency in demands for 
personal control over actions and events, wildly “bohemian” work 
habits, the ability to inspire mass audiences with the spoken word, 
and so on, which do not support a view of Hitler in politics. Others 
around him in Germany and later in Europe were engaged in poli- 
tics, but Hitler must be acknowledged, with his inimitable reserve 
and divorcement from the reality of others, to have been performing 
in the parallel universe of a prophet. 

But what are the characteristics of a prophet, and do they in fact 
more comfortably and credibly pull together a picture of Hitler? 
Few can doubt that the great Arab, Muhammad “the praised,” was a 
prophet — an inspired proclaimer of revelation — and his similarity 
to Hitler in style and achievement suggest that the latter was simi- 
larly driven. In Muhammad’s lifetime, the people of the vast desert 
region of Arabia most frequently called him “the Messenger of 
God.” The title “Prophet” came into general use after his death in 
632. In those critical formative years of childhood and youth in 
which the indelible qualities of a man are set, observers noted the 
identical overriding qualities of seriousness, earnestness, and inten- 
sity. The great biographers present Hitler as incapable of calm and 
casual social conversation and observe that he preferred to engage in 
tirade and pontification with everyone from government minister 
and sophisticated host to his base personal entourage. The biogra- 
phers elaborate that this single-minded intensity ultimately devel- 



oped into unapproachable isolation and dismiss the observed 
behavior as egomania. The primary sources associated with the life 
of Muhammad are God speaking in the Quran, the revelations, and 
the hadith or table talk of the Prophet, and because of their nature 
they scarcely describe Muhammad as an egomaniac. It is difficult to 
imagine, however, that Muhammad suffered much interruption of 
his comments on faith and morals after the consolidation of his con- 
verts following the victories over the Quraish tribe in 622 and 623. 

The great biographers of Hitler disparage him as chaste and 
prudish when young, use the phrase “sexual repression” to describe 
his lack of sexual experience, and put together a picture of unsavory 
oddness in the young man. In the case of Muhammad, it is pointed 
out that “in later life he claimed that he had never been guilty of 
sexual immorality in his youth.” 28 The phrase “guilty of sexual 
immorality” is somewhat vague, but suggests reasonably that the 
Prophet, as a “quiet, pensive youth” 29 was at a loss about sex. Any 
intriguing similarity ends here, however, because, Hitler, concerned 
about his image as a distant, heroic leader, maintained a public image 
of celibacy while Muhammad had thirteen wives in the period 595 
through 629. 

Interpreting Hitler as a hate-filled egomaniac, the biographers 
underestimate the man, misjudge the disruption of the times, and 
prove incapable of overcoming elemental hatred for the subject of 
their biographies all in the presence of a man with the temperament 
of a modern-styled prophet. It is difficult to imagine that he would 
have had an assistant German messiah or felt bound by any council 
or counsel in interpreting his vision of new Germans and a Third 
Reich. The biographers do not display the self-discipline necessary 
to overcome their hatred of Hitler, and they adopt a morally supe- 
rior position of acknowledging their fascination with the man and 
granting “the need of a certain shuddering admiration.” 30 

Hitler himself noted in a passage in Mein Kampf that he “had a 
holy conviction of the mission and the future of his movement.” 31 
He elaborated that “only a storm of hot passion can turn the des- 



tinies of peoples and he alone who bears it within himself can arouse 
passion. [The storm | alone gives the chosen one the words which 
like hammer blows can open the gates to the heart of a people.” 32 
The biographers see in such words excessive self-adulation and, not 
surprisingly, cal) it egomania. Yet, we can take the same words that 
characterize the same man and see in them the description of an 
inspired revealer, one whose office it is to broadcast a message, and 
call these the words of a prophet. 

The word is an emotive one, however, that can suggest different 
things to different people. A prophet, for example, can be seen as one 
who speaks in ecstasy from another world under the influence of 
noxious vapors, as in the case of the frantic priestess of the Pythia in 
ancient Greece, or in the case of Muhammad, as one who utters a 
God-given message. Neither noxious chemical vapors nor God 
seems to qualify Hitler as prophet, but his consuming earnestness, 
artistic and heroic sensibilities, experience of the social horror of 
Vienna, and stunning, unlikely survival through four years in the 
monastery with walls of fire, present a picture of an acolyte from an 
adequate preparatory school. The latest great biographer who enun- 
ciates that Hitler’s entire being came to be subsumed within the role 
he played as Fuehrer, probably could have added with additional 
comprehension of the man that the Fuehrer’s essential quality was 
that of infallible prophet rather than being a cynically adroit ego- 
maniac good at impressing the naive and the gullible. 

Long before Hitler began to wear the trappings of power associ- 
ated with the chancellorship, he had attracted around Munich the 
variable likes of Dietrich Eckart, Rudolf Hess, Hermann Goering, 
Ernst Hanfstaengl, Kurt Ludecke, et al., none particularly gullible 
yet all won over by Hitler’s messianic-styled oratory. To compre- 
hend Hitler and National Socialism, we must understand what 
attracted such men early in the movement. Ludecke agonized that he 
“was looking for the German soul, or rather the leader who would 
know how to reanimate it, and . . . was resolved not to desert [Ger- 
many] again.” 33 In August 1922, in a mass meeting on the Koenigsplatz 



in Munich, Ludecke, as emissary of Bund Bayern und Reich (the 
Bavarian and Imperial League), stood close to Hitler and recorded 
the following remarkable effects: “slight, pale man . . . threatening 
and beseeching . . . flaming, steel-blue eyes . . . the look of a fanatic . . . 
holding the masses and me with them under a hypnotic spell by the 
sheer force of his conviction . . . voice rising to passionate climaxes . . . 
then two words like the sting of a lash: ‘ Deutschland Erwache !’ Awake 
Germany . . . the intense will of the man, the passion of his sincerity 
seemed to flow into me. I experienced an exaltation that could be 
likened only to religious conversion .” 34 Seen through Ludecke’s 
eyes, Hitler had the appearance of a prophet, spoke the inspired 
words of a prophet, overwhelmed the senses as would a prophet. 

The biographers have pulled together extensive documented 
descriptions of Hitler’s life graced by sound analysis and clear prose, 
but we continue to face an interpretive barrier beyond which no his- 
torian or writer has been able to penetrate. The writer of a recent 
interpretive account of Hitler has worded the subtitle of the book as 
“the search for the origins of his evil,” and we are left to suspect that 
he has selectively put together the same antipathetic half of the pic- 
ture of Hitler presented by the biographers . 35 The author is 
searching for the origins of Hitler’s evil and must reject even the 
conception that Hitler can be explained otherwise. He carries the 
reader through insight which nevertheless slips into the same morass 
of contempt and loathing and a nonnegotiable thesis of the domi- 
nating presence of evil. The journalist in a marvelously informative 
dialogue with the first great biographer, Alan Bullock, has him 
exclaim on the question of whether or not Hitler was consciously 
“evil”: “If he isn’t evil, who is? That’s all I mean: if not he, then 
who ?” 36 Even with Bullock we see the unarguable intonation of 
Hitler as evil, and the writers continue to wrestle with the frustra- 
tion that somehow, someday, the key will be found to unlock the how 
and the why of the assumed evil resident in Hitler. 

When it has become necessary at various points in most accounts 
of Hitler to reflect stunning achievement — successful action in the 



face of heavy odds — the same writers disparage the achievement and 
suggest that “a convincing study of Hitler” may just not be attainable 
at all. 37 But if it were it would almost certainly be linked with over- 
coming the significantly flawed assumption of pure evil that has 
driven Hitler biography for more than half a century after his death. 
We do not have to begin with a premise that Hitler was not wicked, 
but we do have to begin elsewhere than a premise that demands 
forcing everything in Hitler’s life toward preconceived wickedness. 
The Hitler phenomenon comes into focus when its expansiveness is 
acknowledged rather than rendered invisible because of the notion 
that any unorthodoxy could lead to rehabilitation. 

Hitler’s fierce nationalism — which was the obvious counterbal- 
ance to his anti-Semitism, and which should be exemplified by his 
military service in World War I — tends to disappear from consider- 
ation as important. Instead of looking for answers to the intensity of 
his German nationalism and anti-Semitism, writers have claimed 
seriously that he welcomed the war largely as a chance to escape 
from a life of hopeless artistic mediocrity. No writer mentions the 
possibility that it may have occurred to Hitler and others in similar 
plights that remaining a live mediocrity would be better than 
becoming a dead frontline soldier. Particularly as the war developed 
into the grinding horror that it had become by the winter of 1915, 
Hitler can be seen as having steeled himself to the presence of death 
in the highest intensity battles of the twentieth century only through 
his determination to carry out his duty for the survival of the Ger- 
mans. Hitler would comment that “the young regiments had not 
gone to their death in Flanders crying ‘Long live universal suffrage 
and the secret ballot,’ but crying ‘ Deutschland ueber Alles in der 
Welt. . ,’” 38 We could generalize that Hitler did not enter the war 
crying, “lift me from artistic mediocrity” but rather “test me in the 
sincerity of my conviction of Germany foremost.” 39 

Thomas Mann, with his acute insight into Hitler in the 1930s, 
could pronounce that “here is a man possessed of a bottomless 
resentment and festering desire for revenge” and one who “rouses 



the populace with images of his own insulted grandeur .” 40 In such 
words Mann expresses the view that Hitler was driven by some kind 
of reprehensible frustration over a prior life of failure. Here we see 
both the biographers and a literary giant like Mann in agreement on 
a thesis of Hitler’s base, hate-filled being. We must wonder thereby 
if any man has comprehended the connection between Hitler and 
his experience of the defeat of the Germans. Hitler could pro- 
nounce for all to read: “And so it had all been in vain . . . the hours in 
which, with mortal fear clutching at our hearts, we nevertheless did 
our duty; and in vain the death of two millions . . . Would not the 
graves of all the hundreds of thousands open . . . and send the silent 
mud- and blood-covered heroes back as spirits of vengeance to the 
homeland which had cheated them ... of the highest sacrifice which 
a man can make to his people in this world .” 41 Hitler reveals a com- 
bination of indignation and fury in these words, the rare combina- 
tion of controlled moral condemnation and heroic rage. The words 
cannot begin to be understood in terms of personal frustration and 
instead support a view that an already ultraintense adolescent had 
been transformed by the war into a man so earnest and serious that 
he had risen above nationalism as commonly associated with politics 
and had become something more. 

Hitler used history to highlight the tragic grandeur of what had 
happened. He called upon the example of the Aryan Dorians, 
Hitler’s Western man at his elite and pure best, in pointing out that 
“Verily these heroes deserved a headstone: ‘Thou Wanderer who 
comest to Germany, tell those at home that we lie here, true to the 
fatherland and obedient to duty .’” 42 Such allusion is powerful 
rhetoric and does not fit a picture of whining and hate over an 
unsuccessful career choice. And in a succinct follow-on, he presents 
historical context by questioning, “was it only our own sacrifice that 
we had to weigh in the balance? Was the Germany of the past less 
precious? Was there no obligation toward our own history? Were we 
worthy to relate the glory of the past to ourselves? And how could 
this deed [of revolutionary villainy] be justified to future genera- 



tions?” 43 With these rhetorically styled, repetitive questions that 
relate the German past with the present, Hitler cannot be seen as 
overly concerned about his own personal lot. Yet it may be that like 
Wagner, “His problems are always to be the world’s problems, Ms 
needs the world’s needs.” 44 The perceived “problems” of Wagner’s 
operas are indeed generally those of his own personality and cir- 
cumstances. The similarity ends here, however, because the problem 
for Hitler of the salvation of the Germans was a more difficult chal- 
lenge than that of combining voice, orchestra, libretto, and stage set- 
ting into musical drama. 

As concerns the question of the psychological engine that drove 
Hitler, the conventional interpretation of lusting after power is, in 
final analysis, the refuge of lack of comprehension. And it is no more 
credible to claim that Hitler decided to save the Germans because of 
personal frustration than to claim that he decided to expand 
German space into an impregnable Reich fortress in order to satiate 
some lust for power, as it were, just for the evil of it. The essential 
qualities of Hitler’s revelation include vastness, clarity, immutability, 
and finality that add up to the vision of a self-adjudged chosen one. 
The accounts from 1904 through 1908 add up to a picture of the 
young Hitler as consumed by interest in idealistic fantasy projects all 
with envisioned successful outcomes. We detect neither evil nor hate 
nor lust for power in these projects, and such elements should have 
been present even in adolescence for one interpreted as the person- 
ification of evil. Hitler instead reveals intensity and idealism. He 
does not introduce the word “hate” in any broad sense to his life 
until his ominous comment in mid- 1908. It was then that he made 
reference to the Jews as the supreme enemy of the Germans, and 
that he had “gradually” begun to hate them. The operative adverb, 
gradually, provides insight because it demands that he neither hated 
nor was particularly concerned about Jews until after his arrival in 
Vienna. Then, as a result of his “objective” studies of authorities as 
variable as the gutter pamphlets, respected newspapers, books, and 
the programs of the Pan-Germans and the Christian Social Party, 



Hitler claims that the Jews became revealed as the enemy. He cannot 
be seen as developing over a long period as a result of environmental 
bombardment in the home, school, and around Linz into the usual 
religious and crudely propagandized anti-Semite of the era. In spite 
of the passion with which Hitler would pursue his anti-Semitism, it 
would be underpinned by an extraordinary combination of objec- 
tively styled study and inspired revelation of the Germans under 
attack by a master enemy. 

Hitler’s inherent intensity and inquisitiveness and predisposition 
to convert his problems into those of all Germans would combine to 
produce his great revelation over a two-year period that centered on 
his nineteenth year. Hitler thereby treated the world to the unlikely 
picture of a nineteen-year-old who acquired a worldview that had 
the intensity and clarity of a prophetic vision and that developed into 
the political-philosophical phenomenon of the century. He would 
opine in Mein Kampf that all creative ideas appear in our youth, 
during which we acquire our most original and productive thoughts, 
and after which we are no longer able to add anything significantly 
more original and are faced with executing those “unchanging prin- 
ciples.” 45 Hitler presented the picture of a self-acknowledged Ro- 
mantic genius who, through concentrated self study, achieved a 
worldview which we can most comprehendingly liken to a single 
immutable revelation. 

Unbeknownst to the Germans, the messiah had already experi- 
enced revelation by late 1909. The mystery, then, is why he did not 
begin to stalk through the streets of Vienna, staff or whip in hand, 
war nin g idolaters or flagellating modern moneylenders. The answer 
is that he had neither opportunity nor motive at remotely high 
enough levels to enter politics — perhaps appropriately from stage 
right. Hitler himself would be part of the problem in this realization. 
Thomas Mann’s thesis of “the difficulty, the laziness, the pathetic 
formlessness in youth, the round peg in the square hole, the ‘what- 
ever do you want,”’ would come into play for the next ten years 
within the framework (partly true, but significantly exaggerated) of 



a “lazy, vegetating existence in the depths of a moral and mental 
Bohemia” and an arrogance supported on a vague intuition of being 
reserved for something special. 46 Most significantly though, Hitler 
would struggle to make a living in Vienna and Munich and then 
struggle to stay alive on the western front with neither opportunity 
nor motive great enough to activate the messiah. Remarkably, the 
man who could display such energy post-1919 would require the 
stimulus of World War I and the lengthy opportunity of the 1919 
barracks days in Munich to step forward. 

When the time came to finally do something, he would confound 
the writers by claiming to wrestle mightily over entering politics. 
Hitler showed remarkable restraint and humility in this set of cir- 
cumstances from 1910 through 1919. It would take the deaths of 
nearly two million sworn to duty in a losing cause to press him for- 
ward. The National Socialist cenotaph — an empty bronze tomb in 
Munich symbolizing the bodies of two million buried elsewhere — 
brings into focus the recognition of danger to the Germans and the 
element of revenge that must be associated with Hitler. 47 The con- 
ventional wisdom does not see such images and instead parades 
Hitler as a fanatic, a base self-seeker with the enlargement of his 
own power as his aphrodisiac; rather, he should be seen as a fanatic, 
base genius with the salvation of the Germans as his aphrodisiac. 

Characteristically, messiahs announce themselves. No com- 
mittee marches in advance to announce their arrivals. Hitler would 
elaborate on this theme by claiming that “In world history the man 
who really arises above the broad average usually announces himself 
personally.” 48 And in a continuing apolitical and impersonal style, he 
would reiterate the theme that “one man must step forward who, with 
apodictic force, will form granite principles from the idea-world of 
the broad masses and take up the struggle for their sole correctness” 
all directed “toward the raising of a brazen cliff of solid unity in 
faith and will.” 49 Although Mann would see in such verbiage histri- 
onics in the service of a demagogue, he would admit that Hitler was 
an impossibly successful hysteric. He would also admit that there 



was absolutely no limit to the extent that Hitler could project his 
unconscious self on reality. 50 

In the presence of a messiah as evidenced by the words above in 
only two sentence fragments — one man, apodictic force, granite 
principles, idea-world, sole correctness, brazen cliff of solid unity, 
faith and will — the best the brilliant literatus can manage is to point 
out that Hitler was a contemptible hysteric. The biographers, histo- 
rians, and other writers, however, comprise a literary body homoge- 
nized by its expectation to be appalled. In such a situation it is not 
surprising that Mann could fail to discern Hitler’s dark fury over the 
deaths of two million soldiers. The gifted writer of the nonplus ultra 
brief analysis of the Hitler phenomenon would instead elaborate on 
a Death in Venice and the challenge of the anti-intellectualism that 
was developing in turn-of-the-century Europe. 51 Mann would even 
make an analogy between Hitler and Girolamo Savonarola 
(1452-1498) the fiery would-be Italian messiah. He would philoso- 
phize how, in intellectually laden Florence, the sway of beauty and 
culture was broken by the religious and social fanaticism of a monk, 
and, on the verge of conceptualizing Hitler as a similar prophetic 
figure, would veer away from the scent. How ironic that another 
inspiring German writer of the century would have made available 
for Mann the word picture of the western front as a monastery with 
walls of fire and out of which Hitler would appear as warrior-monk 
and aspiring savior in late 1919. 52 

All of this, of course, requires imagination on the part of the 
interpreter, but the utter determination, the crazy fearlessness, the 
fanatic yet inspired will to disseminate the word of salvation — how 
can we miss it: “Germany Awake” — cannot be assigned to the crafty 
unperson of the conventional wisdom. The biographers would see in 
the focused, repetitive propaganda and semimystical rituals of 
Nazism the presence of the half-digested ideas of a junior high 
school dropout rather than the brilliantly clear revelation of an 
artistically inclined, Intense, and bookish adolescent. The messiah’s 
message must be simplicity itself. The intellectually inclined biog- 



raphers stray from the point that the message is directed through the 
spoken word at the broad masses and not in writing to an inbred, 
self-adoring intellectual elite. And although the message is always 
simple, it does not follow that the messenger is so. The messiah is 
either a great simplifier or he is not the messiah. 

It is a unique circumstance in the interpretation of the Hitler 
phenomenon that, unlike any other similarly significant political 
figure of the last two centuries, he was a competent artist in water- 
color and oils, and the measure of his competence is illustrated by 
his candid comments in the interwar period that his paintings were 
not really very good. As concerns both his abilities and his interest, 
he would say in Munich, to an acquaintance criticizing his work, that 
he painted what people would buy. In contrast, his competence in 
architecture would increase and be formidable by the latter half of 
the 1930s. Hitler would reveal impressive insight into the qualities of 
classical Greek, but especially Roman, structures and become aware 
of the centering of those civilizations on the monumental buildings 
which represented state power and served to unify the entire popu- 
lation with a sense of common destiny. In the Greek city-states and 
Rome, the great families lived in substantial homes but rarely 
palaces, as palaces would compete with the great public structures 
open to all — the forums, the temples, the structures of the games, 
the triumphal arches, the libraries, the baths. If Hitler had tri- 
umphed over Soviet Russia in the summer of 1941 and won World 
War II, his Germany would have been dominated by the aesthetic of 
monumental public structures in its cities. It is difficult to accept the 
stricture that Hitler’s vast architectural projects represented per- 
sonal megalomania when he would repeatedly philosophize, as on 
the dedication in January 1939 of the new Reich Chancellery: “I 
stand here as representative of the German people. And whenever I 
receive anyone in the Chancellery, it is not the private individual 
Adolf Hitler who receives him, but the Leader of the German 

nation For that reason I want these rooms to be in keeping with 

their high mission.” 53 And in support of an interpretation of himself 



as distant messiah and artist, he could dilate that “this is the special 
and wonderful property of architecture: When the work has been 
done, a monument remains,” 54 and “through the centuries will bear 
witness for all those who helped to create it.” 55 Although character- 
ized as uncultured and unread, Hitler comes off in his demands to 
create a monumental signature for a Greater Germany as histori- 
cally and artistically gifted. 

In his first significant success as the emerging dominant figure in 
the German Workers’ Party, Hitler would move with uncanny bal- 
ance among messianic idealism, political realism, and artistic imagi- 
nation. Hitler argued that in 1920, in Germany, a national meeting 
which addressed its appeal to the masses and publicly invited atten- 
dance was “simply impossible.” 56 Within this context, Hitler 
described the trepidation of the party committee members in the 
face of the mass meeting in words such as “that’s impossible,” “it 
won’t work,” “we can’t risk that,” “that’s too dangerous,” and so on. 57 
Hitler demanded an action that was so unrealistic, idealistic, and 
frightening that the party chairman, Karl Harrer, resigned. Hitler 
faced the dangerous certainty that the Marxists would employ their 
street-fighting apparatus to break up the meeting and organized his 
“comrades” from the barracks of the Second Infantry Regiment as 
defensive squads to remove the agitators “with the one great thought 
of creating a free path for the holy mission of our movement.” 58 
Hitler also showed an artistic flair in the first mass meeting with the 
red color of the propaganda posters and the striking red banner with 
white disc and black swastika as the party flag, the most riveting 
political symbol of the century. 

As such, Hitler would lead the tiny German Workers’ Party to its 
first mass meeting in stunning success, filling the Festsaal of the Hof- 
braeuhaus 'm Munich with two thousand people on February 24, 1920. 
He would successfully speak in the face of physical violence by 
Communist meeting-breakers. In February 1921, Hitler would dare 
to hold a meeting in the Zirkus Krone and attract an overflow audi- 
ence of roughly 6,500 people and successfully defend the meeting 



from interruption. And to illustrate his compulsive emphasis on the 
spoken word in politics, Hitler would unrealistically demand 
another meeting for the following week and again till the hall “to the 
bursting point.” 59 When virtually all politicians around Hitler after 
1919, domestic and foreign, engaged in politics as a rewarding career, 
he would emerge on a higher plane as a messenger of the revealed 
truth of early Vienna and as the revenging angel of World War T. 
When the extraordinary few like the redoubtable chancellor and for- 
eign minister Gustav Stresemann and the foreign minister Walter 
Rathenau acted on a plane of enlightenment well above the game of 
politics, Hitler stood alone on yet another plane — a higher or lower 
one, depending upon the bias of the observer. The issue of hate and 
evil resident in Hitler must also take on new meaning with Hitler as 
messenger of German destiny. 

When Hitler entered “politics” in 1919, he had a clear goal in 
mind for the Germans. For a man utterly new to politics, he set a 
goal so optimistic and vast that it must be taken as divorced from 
reality both at that time and even for a distant future. To compound 
the implausibility of it all, he based his goal on the great revelation 
centered on only his nineteenth year. In the face of Hitler’s achieve- 
ments and his closeness to final triumph, the conventional wisdom 
revels in presenting a pathetic misfit who appeared from nowhere 
and, through some accident of history, some unlikely combinations 
of situation, luck, rhetorical skill, and the miraculously consistent 
disarray of his opponents, succeeded in everything. As far as the 
conventional wisdom will go, however, is perhaps summed up in the 
words of Kershaw: “For one thing, Hitler was certainly not unintel- 
ligent . . .” framed revealingly as a double negative. 60 That wisdom 
cannot escape its preconception of Hitler as a base nonentity or 
overcome its self-imposed shibboleth of no hint of rehabilitation. It 
cannot force itself to say: for one thing, Hitler was certainly intelli- 
gent. And the same wisdom unendingly repeats a view based on 
innumerable causes and personifications claimed for Hitler that 
there is no single or simple answer to the phenomenon. 



The biographers paint themselves into an interpretive corner of 
denigration of Hitler from which there is no escape and which 
demands the unsatisfying generalization that we may never fully 
understand him. Yet the biographers need only admit to themselves 
and the reading public that he was a willful genius with extraordi- 
narily developed qualities that, when combined, allow for adequate 
comprehension. The paint strokes of denigration that dominate the 
present biographical portrait of Hitler must be counterbalanced by 
admission of that genius and its associated qualities that lie strewn 
about the historical landscape — on ground which every biographer 
and historian has feared to tread. Prudence demands that we take 
account of the ancient admonition that fools rush in where angels 
fear to tread, but the time has come for some hero to save the world 
of Hitler interpretation by attempting comprehension rather than 
reveling in denigration and alleging hopeless complexity in 
achieving interpretation of the phenomenon. 

The Nazi revolution has been interpreted variously as a product 
of European power politics, outgrowth of German history, tool of 
crisis capitalism, product of the promise and failure of socialism, 
nemesis of Western mass democracy, and so on, with the widely 
varying interpretations each having reasonable merit . 61 The writers 
on both Nazism and Hitler are constrained, in the face of multiple 
causes of Nazism, to see overwhelming complexity in relating Hitler 
even with what was unarguably his own revolution. Unlike a Lenin 
who was derived from a Marx, and a Muhammad who was derived 
from a vision of a monotheistic God, Hitler uniquely and single- 
handedly created his own revelation of the Germans in mortal 
danger from international Jewry and encircling French and Slavs. 
The situation remains muddled because writers refuse to acknowl- 
edge the existence of any superior or redeeming qualities in Hitler. 
How can we adequately interpret Hitler when we must wrestle with 
multiple causes for Nazism, which, in turn, are related with an 
implausibly contemptible and talentless person whose only out- 
standing quality was that of being evil? The only exception to this 



generalization is no exception at all because when the conventional 
wisdom acknowledges that Hitler was a propaganda genius, it under- 
mines its own judgment by characterizing the propaganda as that of 
hate and evil. 

Hitler can be seen as essentially amoral in his approach to any 
action perceived as necessary to succeed in his mission as savior of 
the chosen Aryans and destroyer of their archenemy — the other , self- 
appointed chosen people. In such a revision, the question of good 
and evil takes on a different character because instead of considering 
it with relation to the worn-out picture of a frustrated and hate- 
filled nonentity, we find ourselves in the presence of a prophet 
spreading a word of revealed danger and salvation. In such a picture, 
the equally tired thesis of Hitler as an unperson without a life out- 
side of politics takes on a more credible glow and astonishing full- 
ness. Being a messiah is a full-time job; as such, Hitler was not sup- 
posed to have had a life outside of politics. He was not only a chaste 
ascetic, as must be desirable for a messiah, but also possessed of an 
artistic talent virtually unheard of for either a practicing messiah or 
a professional politician. After 1945, Thomas Mann could exclaim 
unfettered by the straight] acket of fear of Hitler: “Alas, the artist . . . 
For must I not, however much it hurts, regard the man as an artist 
phenomenon? Mortifyingly it is all there.” 62 Mann would unerringly 
discern the characteristic Bohemianism in Hitler, although he would 
not point out his talents in the fine arts were ignored and disparaged 
by the later conventional wisdom. 

To comprehend the Hitler of 1919 is to comprehend the Hitler 
of the entire period from 1919 through 1945. Every personal char- 
acteristic and quality was in place, and nothing changed. The venues 
would be different and the stakes would be higher. But even the 
seemingly increased personal danger from assassination or inci- 
dental deadly violence in the meeting brawls, street battles, and road 
journeys would be less than that of the front lines of the western 
front. Hitler has been perceptively compared with Charles XII of 
Sweden, declared at age fifteen to be an adolescent genius of similar 



towering achievement and lack of sense of proportion, but who 
would be struck down by a chance shot in a no-account siege at age 
thirty-six. 63 Hitler would not be carried off by such a shot but would 
arrive in history as an adolescent prodigy with a lack of sense of pro- 
portion strikingly similar to that of “the Alexander of the North.” 

We should be able to approach the issue of the evil resident in 
Hitler and his associated anti-Semitism with more clarity and, per- 
haps, finality in terms of the man of 1919. For one who has come to 
personify evil in the twentieth century, he revealed little in the 
entire period of 1889 through September 1919. His friend August 
Kubizek and numerous acquaintances and observers present no 
details that support criminal or antisocial behavior or psychological 
instability. The associates and acquaintances of the great men’s 
home in Vienna come up with a mixture of intensity, reserve, indo- 
lence, and a noteworthy sympathy for the lot of those less fortunate 
in the home. The landlords, furniture art dealers, and acquaintances 
of prewar Munich present a similar picture of Hitler — polite, 
intense, reserved, intelligent. He gave practically no evidence of 
anti-Semitism, with virtually no anti-Semitic conversation re- 
counted, and polite, reserved, and functional interaction with every 
Jewish art and furniture dealer of the prewar period. It defies rea- 
sonable probability that the most determined anti-Semite in history 
could have shown such a pattern of behavior. There must have been 
some decisive quality in Hitler’s evil and anti-Semitism which has 
eluded writers now into the twenty-first century. 

On the question of sadism and cruelty or what might be called 
“advanced evil,” Hitler cannot be said to have shown any during the 
entire period. How is it possible that Hitler gave so little evidence of 
such qualities in the inescapable formative years of his life or those 
stress-filled years up to his thirtieth year? Even a cursory reading of 
Hitler’s account of the revelation of his worldview in Vienna shows 
that he had arrived at his anti-Semitism with trepidation, haltingly 
and through objective study. He noted that he was appalled at the 
exaggerated “unscientific” arguments of the religious anti-Semites 




and only slowly arrived at a self-revealed worldview of the Jewish 
menace based on ice-cold logic. Notwithstanding his messianic- 
style conviction in the cause of the salvation of the Germans, it 
seems more probable that his anti-Semitism was less emotional and 
more objective than has been assumed to the present. 

As concerns Hitler’s penchant for evil in the entire period from 
1919 through 1939, we are also presented with the relatively 
restrained picture associated with the elimination of the upper 
levels of the Sturmabteilung (SA or storm detachment) leadership in 
1934, the concentration camps of the 1930s, and the harassment of 
the German Jews during the same time. Not until World War II can 
Hitler be associated with sadism and cruelty— and then specifically 
in the incredible disappearance of the 3.1 million Russian prisoners 
of war taken in the brief period from late June through mid-October 
1941 and the better-known deliberate killing of probably no fewer 
than 4.5 million European Jews. 

The answer to the question of sadism and cruelty in Hitler can 
be linked with his one-time comment that he would be known as the 
hardest man in history. The comment was esoteric, secretive, and 
typical. With it, he seems to have momentarily broken the surface of 
studious private address to a project known only to him and to have 
begun to anticipate hard decisions. We can never know what deci- 
sions Hitler had begun to anticipate, but he did so with his detached 
solitude so similar to that which Kubizek characterized as funda- 
mental in his makeup as an eighteen-year-old. The great question is, 
what was the relationship in Hitler’s mind between the quality of 
hardness and the qualities of sadism and cruelty, which lie so closely 
together? This question for the ages is not unlike the one which has 
been asked for two millennia about the hardest men in history — the 
Romans. How is it possible that these impossibly serious, duty- 
driven, and immeasurably practical men could have been associated 
with the horrors of the “monstrous and inexplicable” and seemingly 
pointless games exemplified by the Colosseum? 64 It is difficult to 
accept that the Romans saw themselves as sadistic and cruel, and it 



is at least mildly intriguing that Hitler did not use the words: I will be 
known as the most sadistic and cruel man in history. 

The seemingly obvious sadism and cruelty and apparent point- 
lessness in the Roman games incites us to attribute the violence to 
cruelty in the Roman nature. The similar qualities in the destruction 
of the Russian prisoners and the European Jews incite a similar attri- 
bution to Hitler’s nature. But objections can be made because neither 
Roman nor Hitler can seriously be supposed to have considered 
himself wicked. For the noble Roman and the farmer-soldier alike, 
the underlying quality in them which characterized their greatness, 
was the Roman gravitas — seriousness, earnestness, sternness, grant- 
ing little to pleasure or extravagance. The Romans were the supreme 
utilitarians, realists, and practical political organizers of the ancient 
world. With such qualities they cannot be seen to have succumbed to 
vengeance, sadism, and cruelty as the motivations for the games. 
“Annihilation and pitiless massacre were only a last resort against an 
irreconcilable enemy,” as seen in the annihilation of several tribes in 
eastern Gaul by Julius Caesar because of their unstable, mercurial, 
and untrustworthy savagery, which made them irreconcilable, men- 
acing, and useless either as allies or as slaves . 65 The Roman thereby 
revealed harshness of almost incredible proportion, but he did so 
based on realism and prudence in the face of perceived danger — 
scarcely sadism and cruelty. 

In the case of Hitler, we see similar elements of detachment 
from sadism, cruelty, and even hate in the notorious harsh actions 
taken by him. In his first great act of overt murderous violence, 
Hitler personally arrested Ernst Roehm and several higher officers 
of the SA and made the decision to have several of them executed. 
In this incident, Hitler had to be goaded into taking action by 
Roehm’s competitors in the party and found it difficult to make the 
decision to have Roehm shot. Faced with the menacing intransigence 
of Roehm with regard to what organization in Germany would be 
the bearer of arms, Hitler made a necessary, practical, and realistic 
decision to maintain the stability of the regime through support of 



the army. We see Hitler faced with the dangerous intransigence of 
the leadership of a vast, uniformed, political street-fighting 
organization — formerly indispensable, but then extraneous and 
having become a danger to the movement. Uncharacteristically 
prodded into action by his lieutenants Goering, Goebbels, and 
Himmler, who expanded the action opportunistically to eliminate 
competitors and enemies past, Hitler also had to work himself up 
into a fury to execute his friend and dismiss the fearsome storm 
detachment which had been instrumental in the seizure of domestic 
power but become a mortal danger to the holding of that power. In 
this action Hitler instituted bloody violence but did so as a neces- 
sary, in-house, war-fighting type of action and showed virtually 
nothing that can be interpreted as sadism, cruelty, or ingrained hate 
as opposed to temporary fury in the carrying out of the action. As in 
the case of the Roman extermination of some Breton tribes in 
around 50 BCE, Hitler took the action of pitiless massacre as a last 
resort in the face of a perceived irreconcilable enemy. 

Hitler would comment extensively on the issue of the necessity 
for hard decisions. In volunteering such comments he would present 
two qualities ignored by the conventional wisdom, but ones that pro- 
vide us with his vision of himself. Although the conventional 
wisdom has not taken these qualities seriously, Hitler can probably 
be considered an enlightening source of opinion on himself, and in 
the following view we could accept Hitler’s authoritative comment 
rather than assume conscious evil. In a single sentence in late 
summer of 1942, he would offer the following self-analysis: “I am 
certainly not a brutal man and consequently it is cold reason which 
guides my actions.” 66 This extemporaneous oral statement was made 
within the context of punishment for serious crimes, and he offered 
the following argument in support: “I say, therefore, that sentiment 
must play no part in these matters; we must apply a rule of iron and 
admit of no exceptions. This may often pain me personally, and it 
may lead to errors which one will later regretfully acknowledge. But 
any other course of action is out of the question The main thing 



is to be honest and logical with one’s self.” 67 Writing much earlier, in 
1924, about his 1908 and 1909 revelation of the Jewish menace to the 
Germans and the impending necessity for them to fight for their sur- 
vival, he would agonize over his struggle for objectivity. In his own 
words about “his greatest transformation of all” into an anti-Semite 
he would analyze that “it cost me the greatest inner soul struggle, 
and only after months of battle between my reason and my senti- 
ments did my reason begin to emerge victorious.” 68 He referred to 
the two-year period as a “bitter struggle between spiritual education 
and cold reason” 69 and summed up his anti-Semitic transformation 
as “the time of the greatest spiritual upheaval I have ever had to go 
through.” 70 These unvarnished and unparaphrased words show 
Hitler rejecting the baser emotions associated with brutality and 
cruelty and embracing “cold reason” as the basis for his revelation — 
while simultaneously presenting the whole business as a spiritual 
experience! In the words above, Hitler showed an extraordinary 
combination of revelation and logic. He also rejected half measures 
and compromise and affected a pitiless hardness directed toward the 
realization of a Reich impregnable not only in dimension but also in 
the German will to seize and defend it. 

The present interpretation of Hitler as an evil and insatiable 
force for personal political power can be challenged also as grossly 
unrealistic, unbalanced, and emotionally vague. Politics for Hitler 
must be seen as a distant, prophetic vision to be fulfilled and not as an 
exercise in personal power. There was no political theory for Hitler 
and no necessity for adherence to any political programs. There was 
only tactical political flexibility in the service of the seizure of power 
and in the establishment of a Greater Germany in Europe. We see, in 
effect, Hitler and Nazism as forces directed toward the realization of 
a vision, and, to use Hitler’s own words, “force must always have ideas 
to support it.” 71 For the first time we can comprehend Hitler’s amoral 
flexibility in the politics of 1919-1933 more effectively as the apolit- 
ical application of force in the service of what began as a vision so 
distant that any suggestion of its realization would have been greeted 



with Thomas Mann’s “peals of laughter.” And for the first time, we 
can understand Hitler’s amoral, tactical flexibility in international 
relations during the 1930s as the apolitical application of force in the 
realization of such a vision. 

Hitler’s storied comments — “hardest man in history,” “no man 
will ever know what I am really thinking,” “the Jews must disappear 
from Europe,” and so on — come into focus as those of an impossibly 
intense and serious figure located psychologically just beyond and 
outside of the remainder of humanity. To search for and assign evil 
to such a man is to chart a course through waters more dangerous 
than has been acknowledged by the conventional wisdom. How do 
we assign evil to a bona fide messiah who was dedicated to the defeat 
of perceived evil and the enthronement of perceived good? 

At first glance, the question seems to be answered by arguing 
that even if we acknowledge that Hitler were a messiah dedicated to 
a vision of German salvation, he affected evil in the destruction of 
the Russian prisoners and the E uropean Jews. The question of intent 
must be evaluated, however, and Hitler cannot be considered to have 
believed that he had perpetrated evil in his messianic-viewed 
destruction of the enemies of the Germans. The enormity of the 
killin g of 7.6 million unarmed human beings, even within the frame- 
work of a great war, nevertheless stands as a monument to evil even 
though intended as prudent and necessary action in the presence of 
an irreconcilable enemy; as it were, harsh necessity rather than con- 
scious cruelty. Yet, the analysis cannot end here because it is neces- 
sary to consider that victors and repentant losers have dominated 
twentieth-century history and have failed to assign evil in cases of 
similar enormities. How, for example, can we accept the case for evil 
in Hitler from a conventional wisdom which, by conscious default, 
has categorically failed to assign evil to a British government that 
instituted a food blockade of Germany — extended after the close of 
World War I — that predominately affected German children and 
the elderly and resulted in the deaths through starvation of 800,000 
noncombatants? And, how can the reading public be adequately 



informed of the quality and extent of evil in Hitler when the same 
wisdom has largely ignored the Winston Churchill-inspired expul- 
sion of the Germans from eastern Europe? This act of evil is men- 
tioned only cursorily in a few histories of the period and not at all in 
Hitler biography. The expulsion, however, created a staggering 
number of refugees and resulted in the deaths of two million of 
them through the inhumane circumstances of their forced flight 
during the winter of 1945, which echoed John Milton’s poetic 
rejoinder, “pray not that your flight be in winter.” 

The present assignment of evil to Hitler leaves the impression 
that he was not only evil but rather uniquely evil. But the assignment 
has to provide adequate perspective to give us adequate comprehen- 
sion, for after all we must be able to compare and contrast him with 
others of the twentieth century. Kershaw, for example, in the first 
paragraph of the introduction to his biography, would pronounce 
Winston Churchill as representative of the positive values of the 
century, and such may be the case. But the claim loses much in trans- 
lation because the author failed to temper it by taking account of 
Churchill’s moral frailties as a high-level British political military 
figure during World War I — first lord of the admiralty, munitions 
minister, and secretary for war and air minister — with knowledge of 
the policy of the starvation of the Germans. In World War II he must 
take significant responsibility for the policy of encouraging guerrilla 
war in the west, with its resulting sadistic and cruel barbarities, 
effecting strategic bombing so indiscriminate that it killed more than 
550,000 German civilians, and, finally, being the originator of the 
harsh and deadly expulsion of the Germans from the east. To give 
the reader a realistic comprehension of Hitler as evil, the writer 
must present not only the qualities and extent of it but also its sim- 
ilarity to other figures of the era. Those factors can perhaps be com- 
pared between the British and German historical giants in an 
analogy that can be made between Hitler’s words that the Jews must 
disappear from Europe and Churchill’s words, which could be para- 
phrased that the Germans must disappear from eastern Europe. 



The quality of cruelty is similar between the disappearance of 
the jews and the Germans; Hitler would condone the outright 
killing of the former while Churchill would condone the outright 
expulsion of the latter and accept the resulting unintended deaths. 
The quality of extent or dimension is also similar. Hitler’s action 
would result in the deaths of more than 4.5 million Jews, while 
Churchill’s action would result in the creation of 14.5 million per- 
manently displaced German refugees and the deaths of approxi- 
mately 2 million. The quality of extravagant and cruel finality in the 
two acts is strikingly similar, with Hitler determined to remove from 
Europe a people deemed an irreconcilable menace to an envisioned 
Reich, and Churchill determined to remove from eastern Europe a 
people deemed an irreconcilable menace to the British Empire. For 
purposes of comprehending Hitler, the point is that the devil was 
loose in Europe from 1914 through 1945 and took on numerous dif- 
ferent shapes — some well-known through the conventional wisdom 
and others that have been rendered invisible. 

Preoccupation with perceived evil and alleged banality in Hitler, 
however, steers us away from adequate appreciation of the political 
s k ill and personal charisma that brought him to power in 1933. 
Hitler’s two great political episodes of the 1920s were the Munich 
Putsch of November 1923 and the conceptualized strategy in its 
aftermath to seize power legally. Rather than being shown as driving 
toward a polar starlike objective and revealing consummate reality 
and patience in reaching it, Hitler is presented accurately but 
incompletely as immersed in the drab details and in-fighting associ- 
ated with control of a minor and potentially ephemeral radical 
political party. The conventional wisdom has a chance to show how 
Hitler’s conceptualization was on a plane above the innumerable 
details of a party functioning within the best days of the Weimar 
Republic by comparing and contrasting it with Lenin’s earlier 
performance in seizing power in Imperial Russia. The writers in ana- 
lyzing the two men suggest that Lenin was intellectually superior, by 
noting his formal education and brilliance in the Marxist dialectic, 



and present his similar success in effecting revolution in Russia 
between 1917 and 1921. 

The great Russian, however, defied the Marxist dialectic by 
making the revolution in the wrong country, doing so with heavy- 
handed cruelty in the destruction of the middle class and so-called 
wealthy peasants in several years of civil war, and never transferring 
the revolution to its theoretical and more realistic center of Ger- 
many. The Russian Revolution as directed by Lenin, notwith- 
standing, or perhaps as proven by, its final consolidation under Josef 
Stalin, stands as clumsy, brutal, and misdirected (i.e., at the wrong 
time and place, but nevertheless bloodily pushed through). Hitler 
intended a similarly fulsome revolution and has been interpreted as 
a one-dimensional crude and brutal propagandist, but his seizure of 
power stands as a monumental address to practical reality and his- 
torical continuity. And in contrast to the Communist revolution in 
Russia and the Communist attempts at revolution in Germany from 
1918 through 1923, Hitler’s were virtually bloodless. The warrior 
prince of the trenches, the fanatic messiah, the destroyer of the 
Russian prisoners and the Jews of Europe would conceptualize out- 
voting the opposition in a parliamentary democracy. The conven- 
tional wisdom brands the resultant success of January 1933 as a sham 
“seizure of power,” asserting that ignominious backstairs maneu- 
vering and chance circumstance effected the appointment of Hitler 
as chancellor on January 30, 1933. But Hitler would not only almost 
bloodlessly (i.e., ignominiously) “seize power” but also proceed later 
in the year to seize power with the bloodless yet revolutionary syn- 
chronization of much of German affairs with the party. 

Hitler would consolidate himself in power by late 1934 by the 
elimination of the internal competition from the SA in June and the 
assumption of the positions of chancellor, president, and Fuehrer 
with the support of the army and the federal bureaucracy upon the 
death of President Hindenburg in early August. Freed of domestic 
constraints, Hitler launched a foreign policy that could be charac- 
terized as resulting in the boldest and most decisive string of foreign 



policy victories in the history of modern diplomacy. The rapid pace 
of the foreign policy from 1935 through 1939 can be encapsulated in 
a long German word as Blitzaussenpolitik , the spirit of which is 
blitzkrieg-like foreign policy. Hitler himself, with no man compre- 
hending the direction, urgency, and final scope, drove the policy. No 
general staff officer, cabinet minister, or party lieutenant was privy 
to his thoughts, except in the cases of ominous hints of approaching 
war and their involvement in the immediate actions comprising his 
aggressive but bloodless foreign policy moves. To comprehend this 
history- altering foreign policy, we must come to grips credibly with 
Hitler and the surrounding European historical situation. At this 
point, the conventional wisdom fails us on both fronts. With stub- 
born uniformity, it presents Hitler as a one-sidedly shabby, wicked 
figure who coveted power, and it presents the historical situation as 
one in which a legally bedecked European status quo of 1919 had 
come under attack by a German leader with the qualities of an inter- 
national criminal. 

Such an interpretation, which can be generalized as a battle 
between good and evil in European international relations from 
1933 through 1939, is unrealistic. Hitler does not stand up to 
scrutiny as either intellectually inferior or consciously evil. It is 
challenging to consider that the foreign policy of a great power like 
Germany came out of the mind of a single man. At this point it 
would be tempting to argue that Hitler had become dictator and, like 
all dictators in all times and places, had become subject to the influ- 
ence of cabals and court favorites in making high political policy. 
Perhaps uniquely in history, Hitler escaped this universal condition. 
He was under the influence of no other man and cannot be said to 
have been constrained either by democratic constitution or 
Communist-style central committee. 

Speer would verify this extraordinary historical situation in the 
following casual analysis which was stimulated by his bafflement at 
the way in which Hitler apparently squandered time. Speer would 
comment: “When, I would often ask myself, did he really work?” 72 



And then Speer would note that Hitler “often allowed a problem to 
mature during the weeks when he seemed entirely taken up with 
trivial matters. Then after the ‘sudden insight’ came, he would spend 
a few days of intensive work giving final shape to his solution.” 73 In 
this 1939 description of Hitler being Hitler, we see the adolescent 
style totally intact, unchanged, and projected into the great foreign 
policy actions of the 1930s. To make decisions, to formulate actions 
to solve problems, Hitler required no advisors — only listeners. 
Hitler’s rare special companion and observer of the early 1920s, 
Ernst Hanfstaengi, could make the detached comment that Hitler, at 
his Monday evening suppers with his faithful cronies and their wives 
at reserved tables at Munich’s Cafe Neumaier, “would speak entre 
famille and try out the techniques and effects of his newest ideas.” 74 
And earlier, his boyhood friend of four close years could claim that 
“our friendship endured largely for the reason that I was a good lis- 
tener.” 75 As a kind of precocious genius, Hitler functioned alone 
with intense, objectively styled conceptualizations of domestic and 
foreign policy in the presence of unwitting sounding boards. Hitler 
can be seen as moving from one self-generated revelation to another. 
What would have been a brilliant thought to another statesman took 
on the cast of revelation applicable to all of Europe with Hitler. 

European foreign policy of the 1930s came to be dominated by 
Hitler and led into World War II with its catastrophic casualties and 
damage. The Germans lost that war, and it must be evident that the 
interpretation of that foreign policy and resulting war has been 
written almost exclusively by historical entities described as “the 
victors” and a lower number of “repentant losers.” To compound 
this historically incestuous situation among the writers, the Ger- 
mans had lost the previous war and had been handled similarly on 
the subject of its outbreak. These assertions may be an unusual com- 
bination of obvious, trite, superficial, and deniable, but it must nag 
that Germany remains saddled to this day with entire responsibility 
for the outbreak of World War I, and Hitler with somewhat greater 
responsibility for the outbreak of World War II. In the former case, 



entire great empires vanish from consideration in the interpretation 
of the outbreak of war. In the latter case, powerful states with both 
traditional and revolutionary aggressive political agendas crowd the 
scene, yet vanish in Hitler’s shadow. We are left to wonder how a 
man painted as so uneducated, ignorant, and unsavory could have 
had the skill to effect the foreign policy of the 1930s. We are left with 
little wonder about blaming Hitler for the outbreak of World War II 
because, whether we subscribe to the vague but strongly held inter- 
pretation of insatiable lust for power on Hitler’s part or an interpre- 
tation of messiah-styled drive for the salvation of the Germans, we 
are left with the same probable result of war. 

Chapter 1 


P erhaps the single most important question that we can ask 
about Hitler in his formative years from 1889 to 1914 is: Can 
we identify the fundamental, enduring temperament that had stabi- 
lized by the beginning of World War I? By about age five, Hitler had 
probably already developed qualities, based on a complex and inde- 
cipherable mix of heredity and environment, that would underpin 
his development. Those earliest qualities are beyond the reach of 
any man today to approximate; if Hitler himself were still alive, he 
would be hard-pressed to define his childhood qualities, let alone 
describe how he came to hold them. By the time Hitler moved 
through his teens, however, we can begin to see a temperament com- 
prised of talents, interests, and predilections that can be derived 
from historical data. Schoolmates, friends, acquaintances, teachers, 
neighbors of Hitler and his family have been captured by historical 
researchers in enough detail to begin to assemble a picture of his 
personality. Although the years are early and relatively few, the tem- 
perament set within them should be similar to that which Hitler 
would carry largely unaltered to his grave. 

In his twelfth year, Hitler would respond to an adult’s question 
of what he would make of himself in life with the following words: 
“a great artist.” The word, artist, linked with the fine art of painting. 
With remarkable consistency, he would maintain this goal until the 
end of World War I. Hitler had discovered early on that he could 




draw with pencil and paper and gradually expanded that talent into 
watercolor and oil painting on various surfaces. The question of 
exactly when and why Hitler answered the call of painting is per- 
haps answered in his own words: “How it happened, I myself do not 
know, but one day it became clear to me that I would become a 
painter, an artist.” 1 Hitler was instinctively attracted to drawing and 
painting, which can be generalized as being important in his life 
during the period 1900-1914, along with his even stronger fascina- 
tion with architecture. Similarly, in the sense of an emergent artistic 
temperament, Hitler would develop a strong interest in opera and 
classical music — particularly the heroic German tableaus of 
Richard Wagner, who, along with Guiseppi Verdi, was the supreme 
composer of opera in the talent-laden nineteenth century. 

Detractors, though (and there are none other), would probably 
query: Can Hitler be judged to have been an artist? The question 
should be addressed even though it could be argued that it made no 
difference whether or not art critics or others judged Hitler to be one. 
All that is necessary is to show that he believed himself to be an artist, 
and historical evidence overwhelms us that Hitler thought himself to 
be a painter and architect. Evidence also overwhelms us that he could 
in fact be considered to have drawn and painted well enough to be 
considered one. Hitler was observed sketching as early as 1900, and 
by age sixteen in 1905 was continuing to comment to various listeners 
that his aspiration in life was to paint. Frau Pressmayer, a neighbor of 
the Hitlers’ in Leonding, observed during the period 1905-1907 that 
Hitler “was busy with painting and drawing the whole day.” 2 The 
reason why Hitler had time for painting, architectural drawing, and 
the opera is that he had dropped out of further formal education at 
age sixteen. Here we see Hitler, according to his boyhood friend 
August Kubizek, engaged especially in sketching architectural scenes 
of Linz as part of a grand scheme for the rebuilding of that city with 
its considerable 1911 population of 67,800, complete with municipal 
opera house, grand museum, electric tram lines, and major iron 
bridge across the Danube River. We can generalize, therefore, that 



Hitler by age sixteen had become dominated by an artistic tempera- 
ment. It included a self-willed aversion to formal schooling and any 
form of scheduled activity — a Bohemian rejection of bureaucratic 
regimen and bourgeois schedule. 

Hitler thus embraced art as his calling in life and remarked can- 
didly that he had no explanation for his great interest. The special 
intensity with which he pursued the calling, however, was so radical 
and divorced from the reality of his social situation that it demands 
interpretation. During the period 1900—1905, Hitler the previously 
excellent grammar school student (grades one through five), proved 
unwilling to cope with the Austrian junior high school system, or 
lower Realschule. He needed five years to complete the necessary four 
years (i.e., he had to repeat one entire year), and, if this were not 
enough, he compiled failing grades during four of the five years that 
had to be made up by special examinations immediately preceding 
his entry into the succeeding school year. Through strenuous efforts, 
Hitler improved his performance in the fourth and final grade of the 
lower Realschule but nevertheless failed geometry. Only through yet 
another makeup examination in September 1905 was he able to get 
a certificate of completion by the end of that month. Based on his 
poor performance, Hitler would have required a near-miracle to 
have made himself eligible for the Austrian high school system, or 
higher Realschule} Without further education, Hitler, in late 1905, 
had no realistic chance to become the academic painter and artistic 
success that he envisioned. 

As the next phase of his life unfolded from his passing out of 
junior high in September 1905 through his mother’s death in late 
December 1907, the unemployed Hitler lived entirely at the expense 
of his nobly suffering and loving mother. During this period, Hitler 
led a life of leisure without apparent direction or goal. This life rep- 
resented a flight from reality into a fantasy world of internal visual- 
ization of the manner in which his life would work out. His closest 
friend of the period 1905-1908, the talented music student August 
Kubizek, remarked that “he gave his whole self to his imaginary 



building and was carried away by it.” 4 The architectural fantasizing 
included especially drawings based on internal visualizations 
inspired by attendance at Wagnerian operas — great bridges, blocks 
of houses, castles, villas, a monastery, and the like. One must ques- 
tion in retrospective wonderment how Hitler thought he would 
acquire the education and training to bring into being the paintings 
and architectural structures and cities that lay in his imagination. 
Here one sees Hitler lucidly visualizing his accomplishments as a 
great artist while apparently adrift without a notion of how to 
achieve anything realistic. Sometimes, however, things are not as 
they may seem to be. 

The generalizations similar to those above embraced in the great 
biographies of Hitler argue that he idled away the three years after 
largely failing the lower Realschule in a kind of social and intellectual 
vacuum. Those generalizations do not stand up to observations by 
contemporaries and to the realities of his future pattern of activity. 
Hitler, for example, repeatedly claimed that during the years from 
1905 to 1907 he engaged in serious “studies,” and the complete lack 
of formal study in school does not necessarily add up to an unread 
man. Kubizek remarked, for example, that he remembered Adolf as 
always surrounded by books while commenting also that Hitler 
would make him study “this or that book which he had just read so 
that he could discuss it with me.” 5 A similar picture emerged with a 
later friend, Harvard University graduate Ernst Hanfstaengl of the 
Munich art reproduction publishing house, who got to know him well 
and remarked about Hitler’s life in 1923 that “he was a voracious 
reader and positively stormed the historical library I was building 
up.” 6 Hitler himself would claim to have read intensively and widely 
in the period 1905-1914 in Linz, Vienna, and Munich, and his claims 
are supported by various independent sources including family 
friends, personal acquaintances, landlords, and the like. 

The conventional wisdom has acknowledged grudgingly that 
Hitler read a large amount. That wisdom, however, largely cancels 
such acknowledgement by claiming that he read selectively to rein- 



force his prejudices in various fields. The conventional biographers 
argue that Hitler largely read the marginal (i.e., lunatic fringe) tracts 
and news sheets that had begun to Hood Vienna by the turn of the 
century and suggest that such literature dominated the intellectual 
content of his personal “studies.” With this argument, Hitler’s sub- 
stantial reading in Linz, which could not have been affected much by 
the Vienna fringe literature, his reading of respectable books in 
Vienna, and his continued affair with reading in Munich, tends to be 
ignored and slips out of his educational equation. Hitler, for 
example, would claim as the voracious reader that he seems to have 
been to have carried the works of Arthur Schopenhauer, the 
German pessimistic philosopher of the turn of the nineteenth cen- 
tury, with him into World War I in his frontline infantry regiment. 
Such a claim supports a view that Hitler had been inspired to master 
Schopenhauer’s worldview and not simply confirm some prejudice. 

Hitler and Schopenhauer together, under the circumstances of 
lengthy reading on the western front, are anathema to the conven- 
tional biographers. The following sarcastic disparagement typifies 
the antipathy: “ [I] n the Ypres region of Flanders ... he could find 
time to paint pictures and read (if his own account can be believed) 
the works of Schopenhauer that he claimed to have carried around 
with him.” 7 Ernst Hanfstaengl, who had been on close terms with 
Hitler intermittently from early 1923 through 1937, remarked upon 
hearing Hitler expound on the need for a heroic worldview for Ger- 
many that “this was not Schopenhauer, who had been Hitler’s philo- 
sophical god earlier in the Dietrich Eckart days of 1921-1924, but 
something new.” 8 Hanfstaengl’s remark supports a view that Hitler 
not only had carried Schopenhauer’s works into the dugouts and 
trenches, but also that he had actually read them. It must also be evi- 
dent that Hitler had had much discussion with the urbane Hanfs- 
taengl on the subject of Schopenhauer for his intellectual patron to 
claim so decisively that Hitler had been a knowledgeable admirer. 
The presented picture is also not one of Hitler as an unperson. 

The above remark by Hitler’s most recent great biographer typ- 



ifies the style of writing on the subject. Writers take descriptive lib- 
erties in their commentaries on Hitler that would not be tolerated by 
critics and readers with other similarly important historical figures. 
In a single sentence, the biographer quoted would sarcastically 
belittle Hitler’s interest and talent in painting, parenthetically sug- 
gest that Hitler lied about reading Schopenhauer’s works, and sar- 
castically call into question Hitler’s comment that he carried them 
into the war at all. The penchant of his biographers for gratuitous 
sarcasm, strained skepticism, and writing from preconceived heights 
of antipathy has left the world with a dangerously inaccurate por- 
trait of Hitler. In the quote above, the biographer demonstrates a dry 
humor by characterizing Hitler’s talent in art as residing at the level 
“to paint pictures” in his free time with his wartime regiment. Dry 
humor in counterpoint could well be: Winston Churchill painted 
pictures; Adolf Hitler painted. Biographers practicing such sarcasm 
obscure the reality that an artist in spirit, talent, and style would 
create the most dynamic political movement of the twentieth cen- 
tury, seize power in Germany, lead it through the constraints of Ver- 
sailles into World War II, and all but win it in August 1941. One finds 
here no lawyer from Columbia Law School, general studies aristo- 
crat from Harrow and Sandhurst, political scientist from the Uni- 
versity of Paris, or professional intellectual malcontent from the 
great bend of the Volga River. 

In late 1907, Hitler would confront nemesis — retributive 
justice — during his second visit to Vienna. Hitler’s dedicated, orga- 
nized, and loving mother, Klara, had allowed him to withdraw his 
patrimony from the Mortgage Bank of Austria and travel to Vienna 
to apply for entrance into the painting curriculum of the Vienna 
Academy of Fine Arts. In October, he took the two-day examination 
for entrance into the first year curriculum and failed. It was the first 
of the five great blows in his life. These blows included the death of 
his mother two months later, the German loss of World War I in 
November 1918, the failure to limit the Danzig crisis to a war 
between Germany and Poland in September 1939, and the defeat in 



April 1945. Hitler requested an interview with the director of the 
academy, who expressed the opinion that Hitler did not have the 
talent at that time for painting hut had a surfeit of talent for archi- 
tecture. Hitler would continue to have confidence in his painting but 
would remark in later writings that he began to realize that he would 
someday instead be an architect. 

Notwithstanding the presence of nemesis, this great event in 
Hitler’s life as aspiring artist has a curious twist. One writer with a 
perceptive interest in Hitler would publish a collection of more than 
seven hundred paintings and sketches attributed to Hitler, including 
three of the watercolors submitted during the test. 9 Those paintings 
are significantly and obviously below the quality of others attributed 
to Hitler during 1907 and 1908. He seems to have tightened on the 
examination and produced an effort that was not representative of 
his talent. We are left with the unsettling feeling that if the teenage 
Hitler had produced his usual and more representative work, he 
probably would have been accepted into the academy’s painting cur- 
riculum. What is the significance of this fresh observation on the first 
great traumatic event in Hitler’s life? Curiously enough, it supports 
a view that in spite of his apparent artistic death wish from 1900 
through 1907, he had in his own mind, after October 1905, a “plan” 
embodying private immersion in art, at the end of which and at the 
earliest possible time — age eighteen — he would sweep into the art 
academy on the basis of the talent he would reveal in the yearly 
examination. The pattern was one of apparent drift, torpor, and self- 
indulgence and seemed to represent Hitler’s basic temperament — 
artistic, Bohemian, procrastination unconstrained by ordinary con- 
sideration of time, during which he worked obliquely on developing 
projects until forced to act. Years later, in August 1923, when Hitler 
had become a leading actor in Bavarian politics, the National 
Socialist economic guru Gottfried Feder would criticize Hitler’s 
lifestyle, specifically noting his anarchy in the allocation of time. 10 
Here we see the “granite foundation” of Hitler’s temperament laid 
during his teen years in Linz and the year 1908 in Vienna. 



When Hitler departed by train for the Austrian capital in Feb- 
ruary 1908, he vacated Linz as a badly educated eighteen-year-old 
of modest social antecedents but with considerable talent in the fine 
arts. Looking back in time through World War II, the interwar 
period, and World War I, we see times of cataclysmic political 
violence. It is easy to forget, therefore, that Hitler went to Vienna 
earlier in the autumn of 1907 to take the painting admissions exam- 
ination for the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and not to prepare 
himself to become a German nationalist and anti-Semite. He took 
this great step of his formative years based on his interest in painting, 
and it must be jarring in the face of the present consensus of Hitler 
as coarse unperson that such a generalization can be made. Evidence 
from the years 1900 through 1907, however, shows that he thought 
he would become a great artist and from that lofty eminence preside 
over a life filled also with classical music and opera. 

The biographers know this, but in their underestimation of 
Hitler and inability to resist the sarcastic bon mot , , they make fun of 
and largely ignore what they consider to be his artistic pretensions. 
They do so because they are unable to rise above the unbridled 
hatred expressed so well by Thomas Mann that “one begins to fear 
lest one be pusillanimous enough to fall short in the hatred which is 
the only right reaction from those to whom our civilization is 
anyhow dear.” 11 But Mann continues on to a higher plane occupied 
by none of the great biographers when he elaborates “that those are 
not my best hours, in which I hate the miserable, if also portentous 
phenomenon.” 12 He philosophized that his better hours are those in 
which his hatred was overcome by the need for objective contempla- 
tion of the interest (indeed, fascination!) with Hitler. Mann general- 
ized that people underestimate such interest and the superior 
morality inherent in approaching Hitler from the viewpoint of a fas- 
cination of the genius united with the limitless amoral vision in one 
man. The great biographers, however, do not take Hitler seriously as 
either an artist or as a genius who combined artistic sensibilities with 
other remarkable characteristics. In doing so, they underestimate his 



formidable artistic and messianic qualities that are the ones that 
largely account for Hitler’s success. We are left with a caricature of 
a crude propagandist, a caricaaire that is almost valueless for com- 
prehension of Hitler. A far better image would be a more compre- 
hending picture of an artistic, self-educated phenomenon of vast 
historical breadth marching toward a final messianic vision. 

Hitler entered his Vienna period in early February 1908 and exited 
it five years later in May 1913. Biographers of Hitler have heavily 
worked this period of his life based on his assertion that he laid the 
foundation of his political worldview during that time. Hitler’s biogra- 
phers, however, are in so antipathetic a hurry to tell their readers about 
the wicked ideas developing in the mind of a wicked man that they 
overemphasize the importance of politics and ignore evidence lying 
about that conflicts with the view that the period was dominated by 
Hitler’s transformation into an extreme German nationalist dominated 
by repugnance for the Marxists, Jews, and Slavs of the empire. 

The Vienna period, however, can be divided into two parts. 
When they are analyzed from a viewpoint of trying to comprehend 
what Hitler was doing contemporaneously rather than looking for 
evidence to project him into a known future outcome, a better 
understanding can be reached. For such understanding, the period 
can be divided into an early period ending with Hitler’s fall into the 
abyss during late 1908 and 1909, and a later period characterized by 
his exit from the same depths during 1910 through 1913. That word, 
abyss, is a colorful one for Hitler’s near social extinction around 
Christmas of 1909. During early 1908, Hitler developed an interest 
in political and social issues associated with the growing cos- 
mopolitan center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His interest was 
characterized by concern over perceived disintegration of the Aus- 
trian part of the empire. Hitler nevertheless must be seen as far more 
involved in art projects including architectural drawing and plan- 
ning, painting (especially cityscapes), attendance at opera and sym- 
phonic performances, and widely varied library book reading. 
Although these projects do not qualify as gainful employment, they 



do not represent the socially unredeeming, purposeless indolence 
emphasized by the great biographers. 

In September 1908, Hitler failed for the second time the entrance 
examination to the academy, and from that time through December 
1909 remains unknown historical terrain. Much time has to be 
accounted for, and the biographers (with the exception of the most 
recent work) work hard to denigrate Hitler and fit him into the well- 
known superficial reader of the newspapers and cheap political tracts of 
Vienna. In such a picture, they present Hitler as haunting coffee houses 
in the city and developing his ubiquitously described half-baked ideas 
on Marxists and Jews that he was beginning to assemble as his world- 
view. The biographers base their invariable accusation of “half-baked 
ideas” on the premise that an uneducated, uncultured, indolent twenty- 
year-old could have had none other. The biographers further claim that 
Hitler read especially various anti-Semitic tracts that would have sup- 
ported his assumed consuming anti-Semitism by the time of his depar- 
ture from Vienna in 1913. Kershaw, the latest great biographer, however, 
dismantles such interpretation by argument that shows that little evi- 
dence exists as to what Hitler did during the lost year. 

With pitifully few eyewitness accounts of Hitler during the 
missing year, we can only make the modestly comfortable general- 
ization that he continued to be attracted to heroically styled German 
nationalism and to pinpoint the usual suspects as the most dangerous 
enemies of a secure German Reich. During this year of his descent 
to near social obliteration, we must also conclude that his developing 
political enlightenment was subordinate to his practical concern 
over his dwindling finances, necessity to move to cheaper lodgings, 
continuing hope of becoming a great architect, never-ending affair 
with grand opera and other classical music, and concern over having 
to identify himself to the imperial authorities for compulsory mili- 
tary service. 

But Kubizek’s account of Hitler in Vienna earlier, from February 
through July 1908, establishes beyond much doubt that he immersed 
himself in architecture — sketching and painting buildings and 



planning architectural edifices such as opera houses, bridges, 
monumentally styled buildings, and the like. The account also shows 
that he read omnivorously, continued to draw and paint, and attended 
numberless performances of opera and classical music. The biogra- 
phers agree with these generalizations but temper their remarks with 
so many disparaging qualifications that readers are left with the 
feeling that Hitler had little talent and only modest interest in the 
fine arts. In the case of music, for example, it is demonstrable that 
Hitler had an irresistible passion for it. Kubizek, the aspiring musi- 
cian, had first encountered the fifteen-year-old Hitler at the Linz 
Opera House where the two competed for standing room to view the 
stage setting so important for opera. Kubizek would comment that in 
the Linz Opera House, “just above the promenade was the Royal Box 
supported by two wooden columns. These columns were . . . the only 
places with an undisturbed view of the stage ... I can still see myself 
rushing into the theater undecided whether to choose the left- or the 
right-hand pillar. Often, however, one of the two columns . . . was 
already taken; someone was even more enthusiastic than I was . 13 

Adolf Hitler appears intense as always and engrossed in Euro- 
pean grand opera of the turn of the century. Kubizek presented 
Hitler, even at age fifteen, as enthralled by cultural achievement and 
scarcely engaged in the activity of an unperson — unless we compre- 
hend attendance at grand opera as base and unredeeming. It is pos- 
sible, though, that Hitler at this young age viewed opera as a child 
might “read” an illustrated book, largely interested in the pictures, or, 
as it were, the scenery. But Kubizek elaborated that “during the 
interval in a performance some time later we started talking, as . . . 
neither of us approved of the casting of one of the parts. We dis- 
cussed it together and rejoiced in our common adverse criticism. I 
marveled at the quick sure grasp of [Hitler], In this he was undoubt- 
edly my superior. On the other hand, when it came to talking of 
purely musical matters, I felt my own superiority .” 14 No great biog- 
rapher or any other has seen fit to add to our comprehension of 
Hitler by noting the quite extraordinary fact that at age fifteen he 



immersed himself in discussion of the casting of roles in grand opera 
with an aspiring and ultimately talented music student. This frag- 
ment alone hints at extraordinary qualifications for appreciation and 
analysis of opera and suggests that the great biographers, for what- 
ever reason, have misleadingly exaggerated their characterization of 
Hitler as a personal void. The great biographers, however, level the 
objection at the young Kubizek that he was impressionable and 
willing to defer to Hitler in widely ranging matters of opinion. But 
no biographer can claim that Kubizek was anything but an intimate 
and expert commentator on Hitler and his association with music. 

Kubizek gives us a brief portrait of the teenager recalled half a 
century later when he decided to write about his extraordinary 
friendship with the young Hitler. Music was the single common 
factor that most linked them together, and Kubizek remains superbly 
qualified to tell us about Hitler’s interest, knowledge, and talent in 
music. Kubizek’s account supports a view that Hitler, with or 
without his friend, attended an extraordinary number of opera and 
music performances in numerous opera houses, including the Linz 
Opera House, Vienna Hof Opera, and People’s Opera in Waehring, 
a district of Vienna where performances featured the likes of Gustav 
Mahler and Anton Bruckner as conductors . 15 Both Kubizek and 
Hitler considered Richard Wagner as their non plus ultra composer 
and “just as other people quote their Goethe and Schiller, we would 
quote Wagner, preferably the Meistersinger .” 16 And, “we studied, with 
libretto [rendition in words] and score [rendition in music], those 
works we had not seen in Linz .” 17 In precious firsthand detail, 
Kubizek recalls some of the musical performances that Adolf and he 
attended, and the list is impressive: In Vienna: “ The Flying Dutchmen, 
Lohengrin, Tannhaeuser, Tristan and Isolde, Die Meistersinger have 
remained unforgettable ... as has The Ring and even Parsifal!^ 8 Ear- 
lier in Linz, in addition to performances of Wagner, they had seen 
together “a surprisingly good Figaro ” and The Magic Flute by Wolf- 
gang Amadeus Mozart and Der Freischuetz by Carl Maria von Weber. 
These details of Hitler’s romance with classical music out of child- 



hood and youth suggest that he had considerable knowledge about 
classical music in general and formidable knowledge of Wagnerian 
opera and similar grand opera by the time he was only eighteen. We 
must suspect that he had begun attending serious music perfor- 
mances earlier, around ages thirteen or fourteen. 

Later, in the early stages of the Nazi movement, Hitler devel- 
oped a friendly and even relaxed personal relationship and political 
association with the urbane, upper-class art reproduction scion 
Ernst Hanfstaengl who was well-educated and talented in music. 
Hanfstacngl noted in his memoir that he had acquired something of 
a reputation at Harvard University in piano. He elaborated: “My 
teachers in Munich had been August Schmid-Lindner and Bernhard 
Stavenhagen, the last pupil of Liszt, and my hands had given me a 
mastery of the Romantic school.” 19 Hanfstaengl’s son Egon com- 
mented in the 1994 afterword to the memoir that one of his father’s 
teachers of musicology, Schmid-Lindner, had said that in his long 
career as a pedagogue he had “never known anyone as naturally at 
home on the keyboard as this Ernst Hanfstaengl.” 20 Hanfstaengl 
commented that at his Pienzenauerstrasse house in Munich after a 
performance of Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg&t the Hof Theater in 
January 1933, Hitler and he discussed the experience. Hitler was “in 
his most benign mood . . . The conductor that evening had been Hans 
Knuppertsbusch and Hitler had not liked his tempi [the rates of 
speed at which the passages in the music had been played] and inter- 
pretation and was expatiating on the subject. He could really do so 
with good sense and would hum or whistle many of the passages, the 
words of which he knew by heart, in order to show what he meant.” 21 
The most recent great biographer, however, with casual disparage- 
ment, dismisses Hitler’s capabilities to understand Wagner in the 
following words: “Many attending the [Wagner] performances 
including Kubizek himself, were more skilled than Hitler, with his 
self-taught, amateurish, opinionated approach, in understanding and 
interpreting Wagner’s music.” 22 And the denigration does not stop 
here but shifts to a different plane: “Hitler, the nonentity, the medi- 



ocrity, the failure who wanted to live like a Wagnerian hero.” 23 Bom- 
barded with so critical a view of Hitler, readers might ask: How is it 
possible that such a man could even recognize a Wagerian hero? Yet 
the opinionated, amateurish nonentity would ultimately march 
through the vaunted Wagnerian themes of betrayal, sacrifice, 
redemption, and heroic death more closely and with greater effect 
than any man in life or myth. Hitler would make this latter-day, up- 
country march inspired significantly by Wagner’s operas. 

Hitler’s two favorite operas were Lohengrin 24 and Die Meister- 
singer von Nuernberg, and his own character comprised elements of 
Lohengrin (chasteness), Meistersinger's Hans Sachs (paragon of the 
supremacy of German song), Walter von Stolzing (artistic, noble 
competitor for the love of a pure and beautiful woman), and the 
Flying Dutchman (doomed to wander the world’s oceans seeking the 
love of a special woman faithful unto death). These figures are all 
actors in Wagner operas and we can begin to sense the young man 
with the inerasable artistic temperament developing into a many- 
sided human being and actor in a Wagnerian-styled opera. Such a 
performer does not require a beautiful soul to perform beautifully, 
but rather “the actor must have the actor’s facility for dramatization, 
momentary self- hypnosis.” 25 Hitler, by late 1908, was becoming not 
only a potential lead voice in a Wagner-like opera, but also, through 
his ambition in architecture, the designer of the stage setting and the 
opera house itself. And if this were not enough, Hitler, through his 
“studies” of Germanic myth and history, could also be imagined as 
both composer and director. Finally, through some as-then undis- 
covered talent, he would be the lead voice in the whole drama. It 
would take Hitler from 1908 to 1914 to develop a more intense 
nationalist outlook, and a great war from 1914 through 1918 to pro- 
vide motive and opportunity to project himself into German nation- 
alist politics in 1919. But when Hitler entered the German political 
scene at that time, it was not so much that he entered as an actor in 
a Wagner-like spectacle but that he himself began to compose what 
could be likened to a vast German political opera. 



The great biographers note that Hitler attempted to compose an 
opera in 1908 inspired by his discovery that Wagner had left behind 
an outline of a musical drama about a mythical German hero, 
W'ieland the Smith. Hitler would embrace the project based on his 
driving interest in and general knowledge of opera and German 
mythology. To supplement his technical musical knowledge, Hitler 
made the effort an involuntary joint project with the gifted Kubizek. 
The biographers characterize the effort as contemptible, utopian, 
and trivial, and use it to show Hitler ineffectually scattering his 
efforts among chimerical schemes. In a work of over eight hundred 
pages, one of the great biographers would dismiss the episode of the 
opera in a single contemptuous sentence, noting that “he took up an 
idea that Wagner had dropped, and began writing an opera about 
Wieland the Smith, full of bloody and incestuous nonsense.” 26 
Kubizek spent an entire chapter on the project, however, and con- 
tinued to be affected by the artistic results. He commented in 1954 
that “I still have before my eyes the Wolf Lake, where the first scene 
of the opera was laid. From the Edda [old Norse epic], a book that 
was sacred to him, he knew Iceland, the rugged island of the north 
iv. there he laid the scene of his opera.” 27 The intense work on the 
opera brought the two friends closer together, and Kubizek remarked 
in an invaluable summary of nineteen-year-old Hitler’s character 
that “there was an incredible earnestness in him, a true passionate 
interest in everything that happened, and most important, an 
unfailing devotion to the . . . grandeur of art.” 28 Pregnant with conse- 
quence for comprehending a future Hitler in politics, his friend of 
early manhood would point out that “when a self imposed task 
engrossed him completely and forced him to unceasing activity, it 
was as though a demon had taken possession of him. Oblivious of his 
surroundings, he never tired, he never slept. He ate nothing . . . never 
before had I been so deeply impressed by this ecstatic creative- 
ness.” 29 The great biographers portray Hitler in Vienna in 1908 as 
indolent, lazy, and directionless — factors that apply to him but 
scarcely dominated his character. 



Kubizek presents insights into the special imagination of the 
artistically tempered young Hitler in yet another remarkable para- 
graph ignored or missed by the biographers. Concerning music, 
Hitler remarked at this time in Vienna that it was not professors’ 
wisdom in conservatories that counted for creating opera, but 
genius. This ambition to genius led him to a most extraordinary 
experiment. According to Kubizek, naturally gifted in music and 
with serious formal training, “Adolf harked back to the elementary 
possibilities of musical expression. Words seemed to him too com- 
plicated for this purpose [in opera] and he tried to discover how iso- 
lated sounds could be linked to notes of music; and with this musical 
language he combined certain colours.” 30 Quite remarkably, Hitler 
conceptualized an opera in terms of sound, not words sung, and 
color which would be merged and would become the foundation of 
what would finally appear on stage. Kubizek ends this nagging 
remembrance by noting that he was reminded of Hitler’s essays in 
this type of “composition” a few years later when a “Russian com- 
poser caused some sensation in Vienna by similar experiments.” 31 

Kubizek claimed that Hitler suddenly realized, during a free-seat 
attendance at the Vienna Concert Hall, that immortal music being 
presented should be available to the rural masses and the urban lower 
classes, not given exclusively at one hall in Vienna to only five hun- 
dred people. He was listening specifically to Beethoven’s Violin Con- 
certo in D Major at the time. There already existed some pioneers of 
the idea of bringing art to “the people,” but while the pioneers 
applied modest measures and approached their goal haltingly, Hitler, 
in a way that would characterize him as an adult and as leader of Ger- 
many, disdained half measures and conceptualized total solutions. 

In the 1908 affair of bringing art to the people, Hitler first gave 
an indication that he had a fresh idea on the world of music by using 
a peculiar new expression with Kubizek: “that orchestra which tours 
the provinces.” Soon Hitler used the words “mobile orchestra” 
because the word “touring” reminded him of second-rate theatrical 
companies. Finally, Hitler referred to his new instrument of mass 



culture as a “mobile Reichs orchestra,” eerily reminiscent of his later 
exploitation of automobile and airplane for political campaigning 
and his backing of the motorization of the German army of the 
1930s. The basic idea of a mobile Reichs orchestra illustrates Hitler’s 
artistic imagination. Kubizek recalled the project in so much detail 
because of his own interest and technical superiority in music and 
commented that “Adolf’s solution was both brilliant and simple; an 
orchestra under a gifted conductor would he organized, capable of 
performing classic, romantic, and modern symphonic music and sent 
out to the country .” 32 The problem of getting beyond the span of the 
railway would be solved by using the newly emergent motor car. 
Hitler’s imagination triumphed again when faced with the funda- 
mental problem of just where such an orchestra would present its 
program in the numerous small towns of the empire. He informed 
Kubizek that there were churches everywhere with appropriate 
cover, variable but reasonable dimensions, and effective acoustics, 
therefore, the operas and svmphonies should be presented in them. 

Two additional confrontations between Kubizek and Hitler 
highlight the latter’s style of action and are invaluable for under- 
standing his future political actions. In a scene ridiculous for intense 
argument over a fantasy project but sublime for insight into Hitler’s 
mindcast of final solutions and lack of ordinary sense of proportion, 
note the following collision over the subject of instruments for the 
orchestra in which Hitler outlandishly insisted on three large and 
expensive double- action harps: 

Kubizek: To what purpose? An experienced conductor can manage 
with only one. 

Hitler: Ridictdous. How can you play the Fire Music with only one 
double-action harp in the orchestra? 

Kubizek : Then the Fire Music won’t be included in the repertoire. 

Hitler: You bet it will . 33 

It would be difficult to exaggerate the effectiveness of Hitler’s 
future style of bold and far-reaching political action, and it is fun- 



damental for comprehension of him to connect that style with the 
character recognizable in Vienna. Hitler’s more important later 
political actions from 1919 onward have been described ad infinitum 
in the literature. But the biographers and other writers rather super- 
ficially characterize the later political actions of 1919—1945 using 
sweeping, vague, and pejorative generalizations about Hitler such as 
“all or nothing,” “gambler,” and so on, to describe his political style. 
In their rush to discover the science of Hitler’s political thought (i.e., 
his knowledge about German nationalism, Marxian socialism, and 
world Jewry), the biographers neglect to tell their readers about the 
uniquely artistic approach, the creative imagination, the consuming 
intensity, and the heroic vision that he would bring to politics. In a 
word, the biographers handle Hitler as if he should have been a 
well-educated lawyer, social scientist, or aristocrat bred for imperial 
leadership rather than the informally educated but intense, willful, 
imaginative artist and messianic personality that he was. 



One of the more important political actions carried out by Hitler in 
the 1920s was the Coburg incursion in October 1922. In Coburg, a 
medium-sized German town only recently included in Bavaria in 
1920 as a result of postwar political trauma, the small nationalist 
political element had decided to organize a German Day celebration 
for October 14 and 15. 34 Given Hitler’s growing reputation as a 
nationalist political figure in Munich, the organizing committee of 
the celebration invited him to attend and “to bring some com- 
pany” — or, in Hitler’s words, “an escort.” 35 In the ensuing adventure, 
Hitler acted with the imagination, the lack of any sense of propor- 
tion, and the all-consuming energy characteristic of most self- 
imposed tasks in his life. 

Probably the two main circumstances that impelled Hitler to 
launch the daring political raid on Coburg were the following. 
Benito Mussolini and the black-shirted, street- fighting elements of 



his fascist movement — the squadrists or combat squads — had 
regained control, in 1922, of the streets and town halls of Bologna 
and Milan in May and early October, respectively. These areas had 
been formerly dominated by Marxist socialist, street-fighting bands 
and sympathizers. Coincidentally, Hitler had just put together an 
athletic street-fighting element under former naval lieutenant Hans 
Ulrich Klintzsch; the group was renamed in September 1921 as the 
Sturmabteilung (SA). The Marxists dominated Coburg at that time, 
although not to the outlandish degree as in the Italian cities where 
the Communists removed the Italian flag from the city halls and 
replaced it with red international banners. The Coburg invitation 
presented Hitler with a fleeting opportunity for political action sim- 
ilar to that in Italy using the newly formed Nazi street-fighting 
“storm squads” under Klintzsch. 

The raid characterizes his nonpolitical style and could be gener- 
alized as theater in the form of grand opera. Hitler can be seen as 
composing and directing a modestly scaled, heroic political opera 
using Coburg as the opera house, using its streets as the stage setting, 
and acting in the lead role. Kurt Ludecke, the successful young 
investment manager who carried a spear in the drama, noted that 
“opportunity presented itself — or rather was manufactured by 
Hitler out of the slimmest materials.” 36 Immediately and without 
any regard for normal sense of proportion, Hitler determined to 
produce a masterpiece of opportunistic action. Notwithstanding the 
words “bring some company” in his invitation, he called up six hun- 
dred SA men in Munich and two hundred more along the way as his 
escort. With no immediately available means to transport them, 
Hitler ordered the hiring of an entire Reichsbahn train — locomotive 
and third-class coaches for the large force — and without sufficient 
party funds to pay for the hire, convinced his followers to contribute 
out-of-pocket to cover costs. Upon arrival for the celebration, Hitler 
and his party were confronted by a Coburg police captain who 
ordered them not to march into town in an organized column or to 
unfurl any banners or to employ the large marching band that they 



had brought. With the same boundless, intense excess that had char- 
acterized the mobile Reichs orchestra project of his youth, Hitler 
ordered Klintzsch to form an SA column, positioned himself close 
to the front, and, with flags unfurled and band playing, marched into 
the menacing terrain of Communist-dominated Coburg. 

Preceded only by a point element and flag bearers, Hitler 
advanced into an entire day and evening of street battles on October 
14, 1922, in which the SA smashed the Communist street- fighting 
apparatus. 37 The following day at noon, Hitler and the SA con- 
ducted another march on “the great square” where the Communists 
had announced that they would gather ten thousand workers to 
throw Hitler and his party out. Hitler remarked about this Red 
revival in terms that characterized his determined style of political 
action: “Therefore, firmly resolved to dispose of the Red terror for 
good, I ordered the SA to line up, and set out with them on the 
march.” 38 But few Reds appeared in the square. The Communists 
and Social Democrats had lost Coburg, which would become the 
first German city with a National Socialist mayor and city council. 
One thoughtful participant in the action generalized that “what 
seemed to others merely an insolent junket proved for us [Nazis] to 
be a decisive event.” 39 

*■ # 


In the 1930s, on the international front, Hitler would launch another 
political raid that would show the same style of action as the lesser 
incursion at Coburg and be based on the same temperamental foun- 
dations. During 1936, Hitler began to conceptualize the reoccupa- 
tion of the Rhineland necessary for an eventual armed advance east. 
He could make no foreign policy move of importance in any direc- 
tion or under virtually any set of diplomatic circumstances because 
of Germany’s exposure to unopposed French military invasion of an 
indispensable part of Germany — the Rhineland. 

Hitler would carry out the armed foray into southwestern Ger- 



many as a self-imposed task. No man in the foreign office, the army, 
or the party advised so radical and dangerous a change in the 
Rhineland. We scarcely see politics in operation here. If politics can 
be considered as the art of the possible, we must see virtually no rea- 
sonable possibility at the turn of March 1936 that either a more con- 
ventional German government or a less erratic Adolf Hitler could 
have pulled off such an action. Neither politician nor statesman 
could have seriously conceptualized such an act, let alone have exe- 
cuted it, and we are driven to ask the question: What kind of man 
was passing by here, historically? The formidable creator of the 
Second Reich, Prince Otto von Bismarck, would probably have 
chalked off so bold a move as based on a man who sensed unique his- 
torical opportunity, closed his eyes, and grasped the hem of the gar- 
ment of God as he passed by. 

In the episode, of course, both the German foreign office and the 
army were aware of the desirability of change in the Rhineland. 
Hitler, with the inherent characteristics and style noted above, sur- 
prised his own foreign office and army leaders as much as the former 
Allies by ordering the army on Monday, March 2, 1936, to advance 
into the Rhineland the following Saturday. In the face of the trepida- 
tion of the professionals, Hitler launched his most daring political- 
military move of the interwar period. In the face of the complex 
international situation, the almost complete diplomatic isolation of 
Germany, and the enormous dangers, the foreign office counseled 
negotiation — an option predictably drawn out and likely inconclusive 
in the face of the French intransigence of the entire period from 1919 
through 1935. ’The war minister and army commander both made it 
clear that Germany had no card to play if the French army moved into 
the area in reaction to the German advance and were categorically 
opposed to such an apparent escapade. 1 litler, however, with vintage 
disregard for the realistic and the practical in self-imposed projects 
and playing the role of German mcssiah to perfection 40 — to capture 
the words of the first great biographer in a different context 41 — 
launched a new German army into the Rhineland. 



The biographers characterize this foreign policy episode as 
Hitler’s Rhineland gamble, although such a characterization is 
superficial and misleading. It is superficial because it does not take 
account of Hitler’s study of the situation, his recognition of fleeting 
opportunity, and his impressive nerves in converting a military raid 
into seizure of the Rhineland. It is misleading because it implies 
foolish luck on Hitler’s part and gives the reason for success as 
unwarranted weakness on the part of the French government and 
disarray among France and its potential allies. Hitler’s understated 
study of potential foreign policy actions, unique willingness to take 
closely calculated risks (daring in both time and place), and accom- 
panying imaginative execution, take the palm as the most important 
reasons for success. Those qualities derive from his artistic tempera- 
ment and messianic self-image. Hitler’s style, which baffled his 
adversaries in the 1930s, could be likened to a kind of creative 
unorthodoxy in a foreign-policy world inhabited largely by 
orthodox statesmen. Combine his Bohemian, brooding imagination 
with the distant vision of a messiah bent on saving the Germans, and 
we begin to comprehend Hitler being Hitler. 

In 1940, within the framework of World War II, Hitler would 
conceptualize personally a military foray and time the opening of 
the entire western campaign to that single action. Uniquely, for a 
political head of state, and with extraordinary knowledge and imag- 
ination, he put together the following military masterpiece. 
Studying the historical literature for the means to ensure the success 
of an advance originally designed as a push on a broad front into 
Belgium, Hitler came up with the same problem of the German 
general staff planners of the early 1900s — the presence of powerful, 
newly constructed Belgian fortifications. In planning the advance 
into Belgium in 1939 and 1940, the Germans faced the necessity to 
take the extensive, ultramodern fort north of Liege opposite the so- 
called Dutch appendix, a peninsula of territory jutting south 
between Germany and Belgium. To ensure a successful attack into 
Belgium, the Germans had to take the large fortification located near 



the small village of Eben-Emael quickly in order to maintain 
enough momentum against the Belgian army, and the reinforcing 
French and British forces, to seize Belgium successfully. Just as 
Hitler consumed books on architecture as he designed the Linz 
Bridge in 1907 and books on music when faced with the necessity to 
acquire more knowledge for the composition of the opera Wieland 
the Smith, Hitler studied the challenge of Fort Eben-Emael for an 
unknown time period before October 27, 1939. For probably about 
four weeks, Hitler personally, and with no man suspecting his pur- 
pose, studied the historical literature for guide and precedent to the 
challenge of Eben-Emael. 

Searching for historical examples of successful fort seizures in 
modern war, Hitler came across the example of the German capture 
of Fort Douaumont near Verdun in 1916 and noted perceptively 
that, although the literature claimed that the skill and courage of the 
attacking German infantry had finally forced its fall, the actual 
mechanism of success was the delivery of heavy German artillery 
projectiles on the targeted fortifications. Faced with the more 
modern, expertly sited, deep underground, and cupola-fortified 
Eben-Emael, he wrestled with the challenge of how to similarly 
deliver heavy enough ordnance on the small targets represented by 
the heavily sloped, extraordinarily thick steel of the cupola gun 
positions. Based on omnivorous reading parallel to the style of the 
1904—1908 period noted in Kubizek’s memoir, Hitler came across 
studies of the shaped charge principle and recognized that such 
charges had the destructive penetrating power necessary to destroy 
the armored gun positions. Hitler’s further reading and consultation 
with unsuspecting scientists convinced him that charges big enough 
to penetrate and to have enough residual energy to destroy the gun 
positions and any other targets on the fort’s surface and interior 
would weigh about 110 pounds and could not, at that time, be fired 
as artillery projectiles. 42 

Hitler had to face the technical fact that the ordnance had to be 
placed by hand against a target, and thus was an impossibility in the 



case of the super-fortification of Eben-Emael. He was already 
familiar as supreme commander, however, with the pioneering work 
of Kurt Student in the development of German parachute forces and 
gliders in the 1920s and 1930s. In a stroke of artistically styled imag- 
inative genius, Hitler put together the German attack glider of 1939 
with the 110-pound shape charge for final placement by combat 
teams out of the gliders and onto the armored cupolas. In the process 
noted above, the characteristic reserved brooding of the young Hitler 
noted by Kubizek remained indelible, and only three human beings 
on the face of the earth from October 27, 1939, until 0430 on May 10, 
1940, were aware of the olympian mission and target of the opera- 
tion: Adolf Hitler, Generalmajor Student, commanding the Seventh 
Air Landing Division of the Luftwaffe, and the task force com- 
mander, Hauptmann SturmabteilungKoch. It is a telling commentary on 
Hitler’s messianic distance from all others by 1939 that the Luftwaffe 
commander-in-chief, Hermann Goering, would comment on the 
purpose of Student’s interview with Hitler: “Student, I can give you 
absolutely no clues. I have absolutely nothing. The whole thing is a 
mystery to Haider [army chief of staff] too.” 43 

In this remarkable historical scene, eighty-five men in eleven 
canvas-covered gliders would attempt to subdue the main fortifica- 
tion blocking an invasion of 1940 Belgium from the east. With 
astounding indifference to the everyday details of running Ger- 
many, Hitler willfully concentrated on creating a tactical master- 
piece with strategic ramifications. He largely dispensed with the 
inertia and compromise of conference, committee, and staff. He 
cannot be said to have put in a conventional day’s work behind any 
desk during the period 1919-1939. Albert Speer, in his first private, 
formal meeting with Hitler presenting architectural plans, observed 
that Hitler sat cleaning the disassembled pieces of a pistol before 
him at his desk. 44 The Reichschancellor is presented as idly cleaning a 
pistol during regular working hours at the centerpoint of German 
political power. He played a role in life independent of ordinary 



* * * 

As concerns Hitler’s base of knowledge for running Germany, the 
most recent great biographer reluctantly makes the generalization 
that “there is no doubt that Hitler did read extensively in his Vienna 
period, as he himself later claimed.” 45 This sentence tends to get 
lost, however, among accompanying belittling statements. The great 
biographer sarcastically adds that any reading of “literary lumi- 
naries” by Hitler must be taken with “a large pinch of salt” and adds 
the never-failing comment that his reading was unsystematic “and 
the factual knowledge that he committed to his formidable memory 
was used only to confirm already existing opinions.” 46 And finally, 
the biographers fail to tell their readers about the informal studies 
and other considerable reading he had accomplished from 1905 to 
1907 in Linz. 

Since the first great biography by Alan Bullock, however, writers 
have presented an ambiguous picture of Hitler’s knowledge as it was 
based on reading. The most recent great biography by Ian Kershaw, 
with its thesis of Hitler as nonperson and resultant necessity to paint 
a picture of him as intellectually uncouth, continues the ambiguity. 
The biographers are forced to make assertions about the base of 
knowledge for National Socialism, and, given Hitler’s own com- 
ments that the granite foundation was laid in Vienna, they assert that 
it was based on the newspapers, political tracts, and campaign liter- 
ature of the day. The ambiguity lies in the fact that the same biog- 
raphers also assert that he read a large amount of substantial book 
literature. The extensive reading by Hitler would also have under- 
lain his political thought, and readers face the following quandary: 
Was the intellectual foundation for National Socialism based on the 
trashy cafe literature of the day or some more substantial combina- 
tion of Hitler’s book and periodical reading of the period? The 
answer is the mildly revisionist one that the literary foundation of 
National Socialism combined the library books, periodicals, and 
political campaign literature of Vienna with the books of Linz. 



All of the great biographers, from Bullock to Kershaw, acknowl- 
edge that Hitler read much — but they do so grudgingly. As previ- 
ously noted, they claim that Hitler read unsystematically and only 
to confirm existing prejudices. Few people outside of the discipline 
of formal education, however, read systematically in the sense of 
sampling every view of a factual topic. Concerning informal reading 
of nonfiction, people read topics and material of interest to them but 
can hardly be accused of reading to reinforce existing prejudices, 
even though such a result may take place. The almost unique point 
with Hitler was that during his adolescence, which should have been 
dominated in school by systematic reading, he had dropped out psy- 
chologically in grades six through nine of the lower Realschule, never 
attended the higher Realschule, and willfully read only those things of 
personal interest. What suggests itself is that Hitler had formidable, 
underestimated knowledge of those subjects that interested him. 

Hitler was interested in German history and mythology and the 
rather different topics of architecture, painting, drawing, and music. 
Dr. Leonard Poetsch, his history teacher in the lower secondary 
school, seems to have been a key figure in Hitler’s life in its forma- 
tive stage. Poetsch, for whatever the reasons, kindled in Hitler a 
dominating, enduring fascination with the heroic superiority of 
t hin gs German. Hitler acknowledged in an autobiographical com- 
ment in Mein Kampf the debt he owed to Poetsch for making the 
German past come alive as prologue to the present. The biographers 
cannot resist the temptation to suggest “a measure of hindsighted 
exaggeration” in the debt . 47 Such disparagement places a veil in 
front of Hitler by suggesting that he was exaggeratedly effusive in 
describing his history teacher’s impact. If anything, Hitler comes off 
as an intense human being, and when he states in his autobiography 
that “we sat there [in Poetsch’s class], often aflame with enthusiasm, 
and sometimes even moved to tears,” he meant it. 

Kershaw would state that Kubizek, although claiming to see 
Hitler characteristically surrounded by books, nevertheless 
remarked that “soon after the war, when asked about Hitler’s reading 



...could recall only that Hitler had two hooks in the room for sev- 
eral weeks, and owned a travel guide as well.” 48 Given the chaos in 
Germany at the end of World War TT, we can assume that if such a 
statement had actually been made that it was the careless and disin- 
terested comment of a man whose life had already been ruined by 
World War I and who had become a desperate survivor of World 
War IT. The statement illustrates a hunt for dry-humored disparage- 
ment, and unfortunately for even a remotely accurate measure of 
Hitler’s base of knowledge and intellectual interests, airily dismisses 
his reading as having little substance. Kershaw further tells us that 
only one title stuck in Kubizek’s mind: Legends of Gods and Heroes: The 
Treasures of German Mythology. Yet Kubizek’s memoir contains more 
than twelve specific titles, literati, and philosophers. 

During 1907, at age eighteen, Hitler created detailed architec- 
tural sketches and associated plans that showed a style similar to that 
described by Albert Speer as a “passion for building for eternity.” 49 
The Linz Museum, with its relief frieze 110 meters long, never 
failed to arouse his enthusiasm and characteristically he enlarged the 
museum and extended the frieze to make it the longest on the con- 
tinent. The young Hitler considered the large train station and 
extensive track system as an impediment to the rebuilding of the 
city. His 1907 solution: move the station out of town and run the 
necessary tracks underground across it. Young Adolf’s boldest pro- 
ject, however, was a great bridge designed, positioned, and propor- 
tioned to be probably the most dramatic in Europe. The project typ- 
ifies his imagination and unbridled sense of proportion and can be 
qualified in a mixed metaphor as a deadly earnest flight of artistic 
fancy. Hitler did not conceptualize a large bridge conveniently 
located on the site of the older structure in the city. He conceptual- 
ized instead spanning the broad, eight-hundred-foot-wide river on 
the outskirts to the west and sited the bridge with each abutment on 
massive foundations high above the city on each river bank. The 
result was an immense structure soaring beyond sober reality above 
both river and city as a dramatic piece of architectural sculpture 



intended to inspire respect and awe. The bridge was vintage Hitler. 
It was divorced from the reality and proportion of most men but 
would represent from that point forward his characteristic style of 
doing. The style would confound the foreign statesmen of the 1930s 
and the soldiers of the 1940s. 

In a sensitive and perceptive analysis of the Linz architectural 
projects, Kubizek would comment that they were more than nebu- 
lous fanaticism. He suggests that the “apparently absurd conceptions 
contained something compelling and convincing — a sort of superior 
logic.” 50 In a jarring parallel, Hannah Arendt, in the 1970s, charac- 
terized the thinking of Kubizek’s friend as “the ice cold logic of 
Adolf Hitler.” 51 Both recognized an artful, compelling logic at 
work — in the case of Kubizek, the rebuilding of Linz set to the vast 
scenes in Wagner’s operas: “architecture set to music.” 52 For Arendt, 
Hitler’s compelling logic resulted in a different sort of idealistic 
project — the destruction of the European Jews. And Hitler’s bridge 
at Linz, with a suspended center span of sixteen hundred feet and 
roadway three hundred feet above the Danube, was only a tempera- 
mental heartbeat away from a congress hall in Berlin with a dome 
eight hundred feet high. No half measures, no interim or practical 
solutions exist here, either in architecture or politics. 

When Kubizek departed for home in Linz after his end of term 
concert in July 1908, Hitler entered dark historical territory. After 
sending a letter and postcard or two to Kubizek in late July and 
August 1908, Hitler disappeared from the view of any witness to his 
activities except for a few encounters with one woman who claimed 
to have spoken to him occasionally in the block where he lived on 
the Felberstrasse for nine months after vacating the more expensive 
accommodations he had shared earlier with Kubizek. Hitler 
remained hidden from view from July 1908 until November 1909. 
This extraordinarily long period of seventeen months lies between 
the well-known period with Kubizek and the later period dominated 
by the stay in the men’s home on the Meldemannstrasse in the 
northern part of Vienna. The later period, although known better 



than the missing one, is recounted primarily by Reinhold Hanisch 
(and only from late November 1909 through August 1910) and by 
Karl Honisch in 1913. The years 1911 and 1912, therefore, remain 
largely missing except for one exceedingly valuable document — 
Hitler’s autobiography. The important part of Hitler’s life during 
which almost all biographers assume he became the virulent anti- 
Marxist socialist and anti-Semite of 1919 onward is only scantily 
clad in supporting historical evidence. 

To get at Hitler with the dearth of witnesses and hard data, we 
can only sketch out the high points assisted by Hitler’s recollections 
and interpretations. As concerns the situation with German nation- 
alism in Austria, Hitler described the only two men effectively 
opposed to its Marxist, Jewish, and Slavic foes as the intellectually 
acute Georg Ritter von Schoenerer and the master of practical mass 
politics Karl Lueger. Hitler commented that Schoenerer pictured 
the German nationalist situation more acutely than any other man 
but was ineffectual in creating a political movement capable of 
standing up to the Marxists. In contrast, Hitler described Lueger, the 
perennial lord mayor of Vienna, as having put together a Christian 
Socialist mass movement that effectively counterbalanced the Marx- 
ists. Hitler nevertheless criticized Lueger for having an ineffectually 
limited view of the Jews in his doctrine. Hitler took the measure of 
the two leading lights of the day in German nationalism in Austria 
and must be considered to have effectively studied, by whatever 
means, the nationalist situation in the heart of the empire. 53 

As concerns Marxian socialism, Hitler recognized it accurately 
as an international political movement dedicated to uniting the 
working classes of the world with no regard for ethnicity, race, or 
culture. As such, Marxian socialism was an inimical enemy to any 
national movement in any nation. Even in the ethnically polyglot 
Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was an inherent enemy, for example, of 
both German and Czech nationalists and others of the empire. The 
biographers accuse Hitler of not having read Marx’s written works 
and denigrate Hitler’s National Socialism as compounded of trashy 



opinions on international socialism. But Hitler, with impressive 
clarity, argued that what was important to know about Marxism was 
not the quasi-scientific theorizing but the practical methods used to 
advance political power. To illustrate the methods, he gave the vivid 
example of a great disciplined column of red-armbanded, grim- 
faced workers overawing the population of Vienna in a serpentine- 
like march taking two hours to complete. 54 

The Vienna period is critical for considering the questions of 
when, where, and why Hitler became a dedicated anti-Semite rather 
than a casual, fashionable one. The most important task, though, 
must surely be the search for the eventual intensity of his anti- 
Semitism. After all, there were many anti-Semites in Vienna; what 
separated Hitler from every one of them was the eventual intensity 
of his affliction. The overall question of importance becomes: When, 
where, and why did Hitler become not just any anti-Semite but the 
enemy of world Jewry, the anti-Semite singularisl The great biogra- 
phers address themselves to the question, dutifully present the var- 
ious simplistic interpretive theories, but never pull things together in 
an overarching outlook on Hitler’s anti-Semitism. As it probably 
should be, the most recent great biographer, lan Kershaw, presents 
the most convincing answer — the closest approach to probable truth. 
He claims that Hitler became the anti-Semite sans egal only by the 
end of 1919 and based on the impact of the loss of World War I and 
the chance to go into German nationalist politics. Kershaw presents 
convincing arguments that although Hitler had become “politicized” 
by the time he departed Vienna in May 1913 and was at least an 
ardent anti-Semite, the intensity was defused in the sense of being 
largely theoretical and simply not part of any practical political con- 
sideration in Vienna. Perhaps it can be generalized that Hitler’s anti- 
Semitism was the part-time hobby of a man at the edge of bourgeois 
respectability. Under the impact of defeat in World War I and the 
opportunity to go into politics, Hitler’s anti-Semitism became a full- 
time calling characterized by messianic intensity. 

Taking the position, then, that Hitler was a politicized German 



nationalist and politicized racial anti-Semite by the time he left 
Vienna, we can agree that the grand question for humanity is, how 
did the aspiring architectural genius and part-time racial anti- 
Semite of 1913 become transformed into the most determined 
enemy of world Jewry in the history of mankind? Although Kershaw 
gives us the most convincing time for Hitler’s transformation, none 
of the great biographers gives us an adequate explanation for the 
ferocity of his anti-Semitism from late 1919 onward. The question of 
the sources of Hitler’s furious anti-Semitism is one for the ages, not 
only for comprehension of the man but also for the practical pur- 
pose of preventing history from repeating itself. With the exception 
of the great biographer John Toland, whose comprehensive descrip- 
tive work has no thesis, the interpretive biographers approach Hitler 
from preconceived heights of antipathy that force them to look for 
negative qualities that include, for example, failure, frustration, hate, 
and anxiety stemming from thwarted, unrealistically high expecta- 
tions of a life of artistic genius. These biographers note Hitler’s 
early hatred for his teachers in the lower Realschule , which later 
included professors at the Vienna Art Academy and a tendency to 
blame others for his failure to cope effectively with school and entry 
into the academy. As Hitler became politicized in Vienna, the biog- 
raphers note the upward progression of hate with a gradual trans- 
ference of most of his antipathy onto the shoulders of world Jewry. 
Although the biographers link the hate with failure, frustration, and 
anxiety, in half a century of writing since the end of World War II, 
none has achieved a convincing interpretation of the towering 
intensity in place by 1919. 

The great biographers Fest and Kershaw note the self-evident 
importance of the question of why Hitler became the ultimate anti- 
Semite. They fail, however, to associate his anti-Semitism with the 
possibility that it could provide a fundamental comprehension of the 
man rather than just illustrate the barren and simplistic presence of 
hate in the man. For all of the significance of the question, these two 
great biographers treat the question with relatively mild interest and 



in a surprisingly superficial manner. To compound the listlessness in 
the analysis and the antipathetic approach of looking for only dark 
spots in Hitler’s young character, the biographers fail to consider the 
possibility that some more positive factors in Hitler’s vision of him- 
self as artist-knight and savior of the Germans may be linked to his 
anti-Semitism. The best Kershaw and Fest can do with a question for 
all time is the reasonable but not particularly convincing argument 
that he was a desperate loner in the process of politicizing his per- 
sonal problems. 55 The personal problems included accumulating 
failures as an aspiring academic painter and the terror of a downhill 
slide into either the working class or the classless flotsam of Vienna. 
In the one case, we are asked to believe that because of rejection by 
the art academy and associated setbacks to his expectations in art, 
Hitler set himself the mission of destroying world Jewry. The cause 
and effect on display in this argument is simply not credible. In the 
other case, we are asked to accept the point that he faced a terror of 
plunging downward into the next lower social class. To suggest that 
Hitler’s anti-Semitism rested on a fear of dropping one class down 
on the social scale suggests that the biographers are not genuinely 
concerned with comprehending Hitler as a complex man with var- 
ious motives. He was not a social scientific abstraction; he was a com- 
plex visionary, at once “banal and terrible.” 56 

The great biographers present yet another standard possible 
interpretation of Hitler’s anti-Semitism in terms of repressed bour- 
geois ideas about sexual relations. In this interpretation, Hitler’s anti- 
Semitism is supposed to be related to and derived from his visions of 
the ravishing of Aryan women by various and assorted obscenely 
portrayed Jewish men. Using the term “obscenity” to characterize this 
postulated repressed sexuality in Hitler and assuring his readers that 
this obscenity was neither accidental nor superficial, Fest comments 
that “in obscenity [Hitler’s] own personality and the inner nature of 
his resentment is revealed.” 57 It is asking the reader too much to 
accept repressed sexuality as a significant factor in explanation of 
Hitler’s anti-Semitism of the period 1919—1945. Finally, this factor 



identified by the biographers as “obscenity” is perceived only within 
an iron framework of preconceived evilness; that is, it is only when 
the biographers have already decided that Hitler existed as an 
“unperson” that factors such as obscenity seem to be credible expla- 
nations for his driven anti-Semitism. 

It is quite possible, however, that the reason for Hitler’s intensity 
lies in another direction, one that would characterize him from the 
viewpoint of his fundamental temperament and would include not 
only evil but also counterbalancing elements comprising his peculiar 
genius. This different and more realistic direction need not result in 
a nicer or rehabilitating picture but one that leads to a superior com- 
prehension of his anti-Semitism. Not surprisingly, the key to its 
intensity lies in the missing half of the Hitler biographical portrait. 
The biographers have inundated their readers with vituperative 
description of the hates and fears of Hitler. But one must suspect 
that the answer to his towering hatred of Jews lies in a counterbal- 
ancing towering esteem for something else. Here we have a kind of 
historical physics operating: for every action there is an opposite and 
equal reaction. 

The biographers fail to correlate Hitler’s vision of anti-Semitism 
with the counterbalancing vision he had of German salvation. In 
Mein Kampf Hitler makes clear the importance of Dr. Poetsch “who 
as if by enchantment, carried us into past times, and out of the mil- 
lennial veils of mist, molded dry historical memories into living 
reality.” The great biographers, however, instead of taking at face 
value the importance of the experience — he was overwhelmed by 
the verbal image of German history — trivialize the whole business 
by suggesting that he exaggerated the experience. When he adds that 
history was his favorite subject, the biographers, with an outlandish 
display of petty disparagement, note that Poetsch did not remember 
Hitler as a student and point out additionally that his grades later in 
the fourth form of the Realschule in history were only “adequate” and 
“satisfactory .” 58 The biographers suggest thereby that since Poetsch 
did not remember him two decades after having him as a student 



that Hitler could not have been so interested in history as he claims. 
And, in a further misreading of Hitler, they suggest that he could not 
have been interested in or knowledgeable about history because of 
his indifferent grades. The biographers thereby miss comprehension 
of the Hitler who had a vision of a great German historical past and 
began to be transformed into the most determined nationalist in 
modern times. 

From this early calling, Hitler can be seen to have developed an 
exalted, ethereal vision of the German world filled with the mythic 
and the legendary, the chaste, the courageous, the ideal. Hitler 
would note that during his Vienna period he saw Tristan and Isolde 
thirty or forty times and always from the best companies, 59 and a 
friend would note that Hitler saw Lohengrin and Die Meistersinger von 
Nuernberg each about ten times in the first half of 1908. These num- 
bers do not include the operas he attended in the four previous years 
in Linz and do give a measure of Hitler’s enthrallment with Wagner. 
In Linz, Hitler discovered Wagner’s prose writings and read his 
“thundering accusation against the Jews in Music , his gloomy views 
on Decay and Regeneration ! 60 

No other German nationalist would approach the tight, 
coherent, single-minded radicality of Hitler after 1919. In speeches 
made by Hitler from late 1919 through 1933, he would identify the 
enemy of the Germans in a manner similar to another great 
defender and hater, the Roman senator Marcus Porcius Cato. During 
the Third Punic War (149-146 BCE), Cato ended every speech, not- 
withstanding the topic, with the ominous words “ delenda est Carthago ’ 
(Carthage must be destroyed). 61 Hitler brought similar intensity to 
bear against the Marxist enemy of the Germans. Numerous forces 
and “a vague sense of being reserved for something entirely indefin- 
able” came together in Hitler to create the “perfect storm” of heroic 
German nationalism. 62 Such a storm interpreted as the necessary 
counterweight to Hitler’s anti-Semitism has lain badly obscured. 

To comprehend Hitler, we require some accurate adjectives that 
describe the factors in his character that, once identified, allow us to 



comprehend his radical German vision. The single best source for 
identifying the adjectives that defined Hitler’s character lie in the 
memoir of the young man who knew him better than any other. 
August Kubizek, intelligent, talented, and humble, a man maligned 
by Hitler biographers for his impressionability, gives us the best 
single, extant picture of Hitler in terms of the adjectives we seek to 
capture Hitler’s unparalleled nationalism and unprecedented anti- 
Semitism. Kubizek describes “his intense way of absorbing, scruti- 
nizing, rejecting, [and] his terrific seriousness.” 63 It was not what 
Hitler said but the absolute seriousness in the saying that impressed 
Kubizek. Subjected to Hitler’s earliest “speeches,” he writes that he 
soon realized that it was not posturing that Hitler was about: “This 
was not acting, not exaggeration, this was what he really felt, and I 
saw that he was in dead earnest.” 64 One’s impression was that of a 
serious man and “this enormous seriousness seemed to overshadow 
everything else.” 65 He approached his self-imposed tasks, in contrast 
to the school assignments of his formal education, with a deadly 
earnestness that ill-suited a teenager. 

Contrary to the drifting, hopeless butterfly image of Hitler 
offered up by the great biographers, Kubizek describes the young 
man he knew as both serious and earnest, especially when Hitler 
directed himself toward visionary missions. He was interested in 
everything, and “this extraordinary earnestness was his most striking 
quality.” 66 Thirty years later, in 1938, Rudolf Hess would ask Kubizek 
whether Hitler as a young man had any sense of humor, noting that 
the people of his entourage felt the lack of it. The complete and 
deadly seriousness of Adolf Hitler was in place by 1904 and ran 
seamlessly through the remainder of his life. Kubizek’s parting 
description toward the end of his memoir pulls together the potential 
intensity of 1 litler’s nationalism and anti-Semitism in the recurring- 
theme that “there was an incredible earnestness in him, a thorough- 
ness, a true passionate interest in everything that happened,” 67 fol- 
lowed by the prophetic words applied to the mobile Reichs orchestra 
of 1908: “While others were content to apply modest half measures 



to approach their goal step by step, Adolf disdained half measures 
and strove for a total solution regardless of when and where it could 
be realized.” 68 Total seriousness apparently led him toward total 
solutions not only in the physical destruction of the European Jews 
but also in the realization of a thousand-year Reich. 

Kubizek describes one other factor in Hitler’s character that is 
important, though it does not lead directly to a greater comprehen- 
sion of his later political intensity. There was always an element of 
his personality into which Hitler would not allow anyone to pene- 
trate. Kubizek would comment that “he had his inscrutable secrets, 
and in many respects always remained a riddle to me.” Kubizek adds 
that, “Adolf’s plans and ideas always moved more or less on a plane 
above normal comprehension.” 69 Hitler is noted as being reserved 
and even secretive by Kubizek, with the latter descriptor not pre- 
sented as sinister but rather as representing unshared, secured areas 
of thought. A long string of Hitler’s more casual acquaintances and 
friends from 1904 to the end of World War I would comment with 
remarkable consistency on his reserve. Virtually to a person, his 
army peers would note this remoteness — Hitler was almost always 
recalled as alone in a corner of the ubiquitous frontline dugout 
reading a newspaper or a book or wrapped in brooding private 
thought. Other acquaintances, including landlords, Vienna men’s 
home denizens, art dealers, and so on, uniformly commented on his 
reserve and politeness. His superior officers in World War I noted 
characteristic seriousness and reserve, and described it as “note- 
worthy” for a relatively young, junior enlisted man — and particu- 
larly for an Austrian. We must add “serious” and “earnest” and 
“reserved” as descriptors to describe Hitler’s character. 

By the time of the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, 
Hitler had come to realize that his original aspiration to be a great 
painter had slipped away from him by his lack of formal education 
and dearth of technical schooling. Although Hitler had succeeded in 
1913 and 1914 in supporting himself in Munich by painting, he lay 
on the margin of economic survival and respectable social status. 



The scene he sets in Mein Kampf where he falls on his knees and 
thanks God for the opportunity to fight for Germany in August of 
1914 has little to do with anti-Semitism, something to do with the 
realization that his life as a painter could continue only in obscurity, 
bleakness, and penury, and everything to do with German nation- 
alism. With notable exceptions, the following four years of his life 
after that joyful kneeling have been covered adequately by only one 
writer to the present: Werner Maser. 70 The period is passed over 
thinly in the more prestigious general works — and done so with a 
hostile bias that disparages Hitler’s performance, combat collegiality, 
and proximity to danger in the war. 

No author pays much attention to the fact that Hitler survived 
four years of bloody and vicious trench warfare as a common soldier 
in a frontline infantry regiment. The great battles in 1916 and 1917 
in Belgium and France, and the German offensive of March 1918 to 
break the trench stalemate, made considerable use of high explo- 
sives and gas bombardments that were tremendously intense. Casu- 
alties in misjudged infantry attacks frequently exceeded any other 
conflict in the preceding century. The most intense combat came to 
be centered in Belgian and French Flanders and the region to the 
south and west in Artois and on the Somme River. The Bavarian 
Reserve Infantry Regiment in which Hitler served for the entire war, 
after his assignment to it in early September 1914, was deployed for 
the duration of the war in the area of the most intense combat. 
Hitler’s regiment found itself holding frontline positions against 
British and French opponents throughout the entire war, except for 
brief periods of rest and rearmament and shifts to adjacent sectors 
in Flanders, Artois, Picardy, and once in Alsace. 

The intensity of the fighting is difficult to exaggerate. The young 
German army officer Ernst Juenger, in the most impressive account of 
combat in World War I by any author of any nationality, presents 
images of battle in the same area as Hitler’s. Like Hitler, Juenger also 
served in a single regiment — the Seventy-Third Hanoverian Rifle 
Regiment — and presents some impressive scenes of “the Great War”: 



Everywhere we saw traces of death . . . there were two messengers 
[Hitler was a messenger] lying by a crater, from which the acrid 
fames of explosive were still bubbling up. [November 1916] 71 


As though waking from a deep dream, I saw German steel helmets 
approaching through the craters. They seemed to sprout from the 
fire-harrowed soil like some iron harvest. [March 191 8] 72 

Juenger wrote the above lines in his Storm of Steel , a copy of 
which he would sign and exchange with Hitler for a similarly auto- 
graphed copy of Mein Kampf at some time in the mid-1950s. The 
intensity of things is further illustrated by Juenger’s musing to the 
effect that “once, I reckoned up my wounds. Leaving out trifles such 
as ricochets and grazes, I was hit at least 14 times, these being five 
bullets, two shell splinters, one shrapnel ball, four hand grenade 
splinters and two bullet splinters, which, with entry and exit wounds 
left me with an even twenty scars.” 73 Hitler served in the vicinity of 
men such as Juenger and other even more “wild and crazy warrior 
princes of the trenches” and experienced violence — and not as the 
theoretical affair fussed over by armchair socialist political theorists. 
Hitler faced armed violence head-on, sequestered within the 
monastery with walls of fire that World War I had become. 

Hitler was wounded twice by artillery fragments and once by 
gassing. His gassing was from the persistent agent called, variously, 
mustard gas, yellow cross, and Yperite, whose physiological effect is 
respiratory, eye, and skin irritation and blistering. Worse, mustard 
gas employs a diabolical delayed action for several hours (i.e., a 
person gassed with mustard agent does not know that he has in fact 
been gassed until roughly four hours after the event). In Hitler’s case, 
he was caught in a heavy concentration that severely irritated his 
eyes. For Hitler, the operative effect of the gassing was temporary 
blindness. As somewhat of a monument to antipathy, the conven- 



tional wisdom denigrates Hitler’s battle wounds by omitting his first 
wounding in 191 4, 74 characterizing the second wounding as “lightly 
wounded in the left thigh” in 1916, and intimating that Hitler went 
blind in October 1918 as a hysterical reaction to stress as opposed to 
actual physical damage. The “light wound” in the left thigh, suffered 
at Le Barque on October 5, 1916, required evacuation to a field hos- 
pital, further evacuation to a hospital in the zone of the interior at 
Beelitz just southwest of Berlin, and recuperation until March 1918 
(i.e., roughly five months). This hardly qualifies as a light wound. 
The point is that the one-sided prejudice dominating Hitler biogra- 
phies has forced disparagement and belittling of his war record, thus 
leading to an inaccurate appreciation of his appeal to the patriotic 
Right in the later Weimar Republic as a genuine combat soldier. 

During the war, in addition to his wound badge, Hitler received 
several other awards for combat achievements. The biographers of 
Hitler and other commentators on his life have debated these awards 
and his performance of duty associated with them. Characteristi- 
cally, Hitler biographers — even in the face of strong evidence of 
exceptional soldierly qualities — attempt to deflate those achieve- 
ments: the biographer Fest credits Hitler with the Iron Cross Second 
Class, Iron Cross First Class, and a Regimental certificate of bravery 
but immediately generalizes that “to this day, it has been impossible 
to discover the specific grounds for these decorations.” 75 Fest implies 
by such a statement that something may have been amiss, and after 
repetitive disparagements, notes that “the only anecdote that was 
told about him [relative to his receipt of decorations] ... is in fact no 
more than a school reader anecdote.” Fest then gives up on the 
alleged mystery but states quite perceptively that “whatever he won 
them for, they proved of inestimable value for [his] future.”' 6 Ian 
Kershaw, the most recent biographer of Hitler, gives a convincing 
account of the winning of the two iron crosses but fails to utter a 
word about the salient importance of those decorations for Hitler’s 
political success and survival from deportation in the 1920s. 

Early in the war, on October 29, 1914, the rifle battalion in which 

Hitler initially served in the List Regiment engaged in a violent 
four-day battle near Ypres, in Belgian Flanders, with elite British 
professional soldiers of the initial elements of the British Expedi- 
tionary Force. Hitler thereby served as a combat infantryman in one 
of the most intense engagements of the opening phase of World War 
I. The List Regiment was temporarily destroyed as an offensive force 
by suffering such severe casualty rates (killed, wounded, missing, 
and captured) that it lost approximately 70 percent of its initial 
strength of around 3,600 men. A bullet tore off Hitler’s right sleeve 
in the first day of combat, and in the “batch” of men with which he 
originally advanced, every one fell dead or wounded, leaving him to 
survive as if through a miracle. On November 9, 1914, about a week 
after the ending of the great battle, Hitler was reassigned as a dis- 
patch runner to regimental headquarters. Shortly thereafter, he was 
awarded the Iron Cross Second Class. 

On about November 14, 1914, the new regimental commander, 
Lieutenant Colonel Philipp Engelhardt, accompanied by Hitler and 
another dispatch runner, moved forward into terrain of uncertain 
ownership. Engelhardt hoped to see for himself the regiment’s tac- 
tical situation. When Engelhardt came under aimed enemy small- 
arms fire, Hitler and the unnamed comrade placed their bodies 
between their commander and the enemy fire, determined to keep 
him alive. The two enlisted men, who were veterans of the earlier 
great four-day battle around Ypres, were doubtlessly affected by the 
death of the regiment’s first commander in that fight and were ded- 
icated to keeping his replacement alive. Engelhardt was suitably 
impressed and proposed Hitler for the Iron Cross Second Class, 
which he was awarded on December 2. Hitler’s performance was 
exemplary, and he began to fit into the world around him and estab- 
lish the image of a combat soldier tough enough to demand the 
respect of anyone in right wing, Freikorps - style politics after the war. 

Hitler evinced a genius for finding his way to forward command 
posts across an intricate system of routes in a lunarlike landscape of 
shell craters and other obstacles. Hitler appeared in situations of 



varying time of day or night, in rain, mud, and fog, and in frequently 
intense artillery concentrations. The duty was dangerous because 
the most important messages were those carried during the heaviest 
combat under the massive British and French artillery bombard- 
ments in Flanders, in Artois, and on the Somme. During the heavier 
Allied bombardments, German troops in the line companies entirely 
evacuated the deep fighting trenches, seeking relative safety in 
deeper “dugouts” off of and around the trenches. During those crit- 
ical and almost insanely dangerous periods, Hitler and other dis- 
patch runners would commonly be moving through and around 
those empty fighting and communications trenches, delivering 
orders from regiment. Tellingly, the German fighting trenches con- 
tained niches cut at various intervals into their deep, steep sides for 
the specific use of runners forced to deliver their epistles under such 
dangerous circumstances while the line combat troops sheltered in 
the dugouts. 

Throughout World War I, Hitler passed through terrain perme- 
ated by “a heavy smell of death .” 77 Both his division and his regiment 
were pulled off frontline positions for rest and retraining on several 
occasions, but never for very long and never very far from the front. 
Hitler also took leave only three times during the more than four 
years of the war, and during quiet periods near the front, he found 
time for sketching, reading newspapers and books, penning poetry, 
and writing and illustrating in the regimental news sheet. It is remark- 
able for a soldier who performed so fully as runner and bicycle dis- 
patch rider that he had the interest and style to engage in such activity. 
Most young soldiers would have been idling, grousing, and engaged in 
lighthearted social adventures during quiet periods. The great biogra- 
phers’ view of Hitler as unperson during his political period should be 
reflected in him as unperson during his military period, but we are 
treated to the above activity as well as attendance at operas and visits 
to museums during leave in Germany. The conventional wisdom 
emphasizes that Hitler stood aloof from most of his comrades around 
him and uses the war to support the idea of Hitler as a man incapable 



of human feelings. The biographers equate this incapacity with the 
inability to form close personal relationships with his contemporaries. 
Unfortunately for the reader, the conventional wisdom leaves us with 
the feeling that forming close personal relations was the reason why 
he had been sent to the front and tells us little about his capabilities 
and adventures as a combat soldier. 

On April 27, 1915, in French Flanders, while armed and making 
his daylight round of message deliveries, Hitler encountered and got 
the advantage over a French soldier in frontline country and brought 
him in as a prisoner, complete with rifle. A single event like this in a 
lifetime would be enough for most. Decades later, the room would 
swell with the cries of the grandchildren: “Please, please tell us again 
the story of how you took the French prisoner in the war.” To put 
this incident into perspective, in World War I, frontline units made 
enormous efforts to take prisoners for intelligence — sifted, verified 
information about an enemy — but commonly the associated trench 
raids ended with dead prisoners and friendly casualties. But here we 
see Hitler returning with a prisoner and his weapon. Considerately 
for future historians, Hitler sketched the scene for the regimental 
news sheet, Der Sandhase [The Sand Rabbit] with the title “Corporal 
Hitler Back From Rounds! A Prisoner!” 78 

Later, on November 2, 1915, still in French Flanders and again as 
a dispatch runner on rounds, Hitler would encounter a French army 
patrol. The encounter would have an unusual outcome. The French 
patrol, moving according to some combat or reconnaissance mission, 
would ignominiously be overpowered by a single German runner — 
Adolf Hitler. He sketched the incident, probably again for publica- 
tion in Der Sandhase, with the caption: “An enemy patrol is captured 
by Corporal Hitler.” 79 The sketch shows him with two French sol- 
diers in the process of being captured during daylight in a shell 
crater. It is possible that there were more than two enemy soldiers in 
the patrol and the event has an interesting tactical twist. Hitler 
reveals the chance and vagaries of war in his words at the bottom of 
the sketch: “Surprise during rounds. A shortcut on the route has its 



reward . . He had apparently decided to take a shortcut away from 
his regular route, and, while moving with increased vigilance, 
encountered an enemy “camped” statically in a shell crater and man- 
aged to attain the surrender of a numerically superior foe. 

The war intensified in 1916. There were more battles around 
Verdun and 125 miles to the west on the Somme River. The division 
in which Hitler served fought largely in the part of French Flanders 
just south of the Belgian border around the towns of Fromelles and 
Fourness near Lille in 1916. They moved south late in the year to 
intervene in September in the fighting on the Somme. British 
artillery fire hit around the command post of the regiment on 
October 5, 1916, and Hitler was wounded. Almost every one of the 
biographers passes through this historical terrain with a single sen- 
tence similar to the preceding one while rushing on to a chapter 
entitled, “The Birth of Nazism.” 

Witness the following scene: It was night during the raw, cloud- 
filled, and rainy month of November in northwestern France. The 
regimental command post was under British artillery fire heavy 
enough to drive the regimental runners into a deep “dugout” built for 
serious protection against artillery. Hitler’s locally famed immunity 
to gunfire was about to change. The serious dugout shelter was char- 
acterized by a set of steps sloping steeply downward into a reinforced 
excavation many feet below undisturbed ground level. One source 
indicates that Hitler was sleeping sitting up and packed together with 
others on the stairs. There were many ways to die under such cir- 
cumstances including fragmentation, overpressure, and flame from 
projectiles penetrating through the top or sides of the structures. 
Troops in such conditions faced another horror that they were forced 
to imagine: being buried alive under a pile of wounded men in the 
case of severe explosion. The artillery projectile that wounded Hitler 
was probably a medium caliber shot that impacted near the entrance, 
driving fragments, shock wave, and debris down the stairs, killing or 
incapacitating those around him and seriously wounding him with a 
fragment in the front of the right thigh. 



The year 1918 would see Hitler and his division and regiment in 
one engagement after another in northern France. Hitler would be in 
combat at the point of greatest advance in the German spring offen- 
sive of March 1918 in the area near Montdidier only fifty miles north 
of Paris. Hitler would receive a regimental citation on May 9, 1918, 
for bravery at Fontaine, located somewhere north of Soissons. Hitler 
was later awarded the Iron Cross First Class on August 4 of that year. 
Although Hitler never told anyone what the award was for, it is almost 
certain that it was for successfully running a message under extraor- 
dinarily dangerous circumstances from regimental headquarters to a 
supporting artillery command post. Information published years later 
claiming that Hitler received it for single-handedly capturing either 
a French or British patrol in Flanders was probably based on Hitler’s 
success on two occasions earlier in 1915 in single-handedly bringing 
in French prisoners. Hitler likely allowed the story of the captured 
patrol to persist based on his personal knowledge that he had, in fact, 
captured a French patrol in 1915. 

In addition to the conventional high explosive and fragmentation 
artillery bombardments of 1916 through 1918, German troops were 
subjected to massive attacks with various types of poison gas in 1918. 
Even the casual viewer of photographs of Allied and German troops 
near the front lines in 1918 must be struck by the presence of gas 
masks. The German Army introduced serious gas warfare with the 
experimental deployment of chlorine gas in April 1915. The chlo- 
rine was dispensed out of large metal cylinders in clouds and carried 
by favorable winds onto French troops in Flanders. Because the Ger- 
mans had the most advanced chemical industry in the world at the 
beg inn ing of the war, they maintained a continuous and significant 
advantage over the Allies in gas warfare. The Germans would intro- 
duce, phosgene, a deadly asphyxiator, in the fall of 1915, and the 
“king of the war gases,” the mustard agent, in July 1917 — six mon ths 
ahead of the Allies in the former case and a full year ahead in the 
latter. They would be the first to abandon the gas cloud attacks, 
develop successful artillery gas projectiles, and employ the most 



sophisticated tactics for their use. The Allies would be close behind 
by June of 1918 with their first employment of mustard agent — 
another horror for Hitler and the troops of his division to overcome. 
He would sketch a German soldier with a gas mask over his face 
during a French counterattack near Soissons in Picardy on July 23, 
1918. Two months later, Hitler was badly wounded by mustard agent 
and removed from the war forever. 

The Greek biographer Plutarch, in his brief biography of 
Alexander, wrote that the most glorious exploits do not always fur- 
nish us with the closest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; some- 
times a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us 
better of their characters and inclinations than the most famous 
sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles. 80 In the case 
of Hitler, a curious event and sequel of no apparent moment and 
seemingly only passing interest may be just such an instant. Early in 
the war, in January 1915, in a trench close to the front, Hitler came 
across a small, white terrier that had strayed across the famed no- 
man’s-land of the day — in this case between the British and German 
lines south of Armentieres near Fromelles. Under the circumstances, 
the animal’s survival was problematic. The other soldiers around 
Hitler had their own survival to consider and ignored the creature, 
but Hitler, with some special conscience, patience, and compassion, 
would save the little dog by carrying it to the rear. Hitler would con- 
vert Fuchsl (Fox) into a trick-performing, ladder-climbing headquar- 
ters company mascot and note that “everybody in the trenches loved 
him.” The little, white terrier became Hitler’s constant companion as 
evidenced by the tactical detail: “When gas warfare started, 1 
couldn’t go on taking him into the front line. It was my comrades 
who fed him.” 81 

Later in the war, in August 1917, Hitler’s regiment made its 
longest lateral movement behind the western front from French 
Flanders to Alsace. During the deployment and under suspicious 
circumstances during final debarkation at a train station near 
Colmar, Hitler “suddenly noticed that the dog had disappeared. The 



column marched off, and it was impossible for me to stay behind!” 
Then, in words as strong as any in Mein Kampf pitched against the 
various enemies of the German fatherland, he would comment that 
“the swine who stole my dog doesn’t realize what he did to me .” 82 

Professor Ian Kershaw would take the Fuchsl affair and, straining 
it through antipathy, convert it into support for one of the conven- 
tional wisdom’s fundamental tenets on Hitler, namely his limited 
capacity for coequal human relationships. Kershaw claims that 
Hitler’s relationship with Fuchsl and other dogs later in his life were 
substitutes for healthy human relationships, which he was incapable 
of sustaining. Kershaw took a facetious comment — that Hitler liked 
Fuchsl because he would not talk back to him and would simply 
obey— to support the thesis. And, if this were not enough denigra- 
tion, he would make the final sweeping correlation that the reason 
for Hitler’s existence was the power to dominate others, and his rela- 
tions with animals as pets exemplifies the general picture of the will 
to dominate : 83 “power was his aphrodisiac .” 84 

There are many possibilities for explaining Hitler’s interest in, or 
perhaps weakness for, the little, white terrier. The search for an accu- 
rate interpretation of this Plutarchian “gesture” in his life is impor- 
tant. Here we can get help also from the past in making a realistic 
appreciation of the little, white terrier; and William of Ockham, the 
English scholastic philosopher, comes to our aid with “Ockham’s 
razor”: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter ecessitatem (no more things 
should be presumed to exist than are absolutely necessary). William 
suggests, thereby, that the simplest interpretation is always best. 
Hitler, conventional wisdom’s ice-cold unperson, had a fondness and 
compassion for animals. 

As a common soldier for four years, Hitler had a variety of mirac- 
ulous escapes from death. As these escapes accumulated, he would 
have been hard-pressed not to have assumed that he was becoming 
bullet- and gas-proof. Analyzed less colorfully, Hitler’s good fortune 
might easily have been mistaken for the work of some outside force, 
some instrument of fate determined to keep him alive. Hitler would 



have to have been jarred particularly by the regimental command post 
scene of November 1914. With his odd mixture of stiffness, discipline, 
and dash, he would leave the warm tent to make room for the com- 
pany commanders and move into the wretched, wet cold of the begin- 
ning of winter in Flanders. Minutes later, death rode into the tent on 
the sibilant prow of a British artillery projectile. It would be absurd to 
suggest that Hitler sensed Providence had saved him for some great 
mission — at that point, the war could still have been won and Hitler 
was still the aspiring painter and architect. Once the war was over, 
however, and politics beckoned, Hitler could only have received enor- 
mous confidence from the realization that Providence had already 
chosen him for something special. Although invisible, God stood as 
close to him as the big vein on the side of his neck. 

But the single most providential event of World War I for Hitler 
was one that he kept entirely to himself until years after the war. The 
event must have suggested to him by the early 1930s that he had 
been selected by fate as some kind of messenger or savior for some 
special purpose. In August 1934, he related in a conversation with an 
English correspondent, G. Ward Price, the following astonishing 
story: While in an area of intense combat near Arras in Picardy in 
autumn 1915, and under much psychological stress, he was eating 
dinner out of a tin can in a trench with several comrades. Then, he 
recounted, a voice came to him that said, move. It was so clear and so 
insistent that he obeyed mechanically as if it had been a military 
order. He walked about twenty yards along the trench, carrying his 
dinner, and sat down again, his “mind being once more at rest.” 
Moments later came a flash and a deafening report from the vicinity 
of the area he had vacated. A shell had burst, killing every man he 
had left behind. 85 

Hitler evidently had had a vision, the genuineness of which is 
attested by the spare description, the recounting of it at a time in 
1934 when it would have served him more practically in the years’ 
struggle from 1919 to 1933 as a means to help lever himself into 
power, and its disarming plausibility. Visions have sometimes been 



classified as either visionary or audible, something seen or some- 
thing heard, and Hitler’s was the latter. The vision was significant 
historically because without it, Hitler would have been killed in 
action in 1915. Unlike his good luck in surviving numerous brushes 
with death, here we see Hitler directed by a vision to move and 
thereby survive to fulfill some purpose. Hitler probably developed 
some insight into the purpose because a few weeks after the incident, 
he cryptically prophesied to some comrades that “you will hear 
much about me. Just wait until my time comes.” 86 

Hitler derived several things from his experience and achieve- 
ments in World War I, without which his rise to power in 1933 would 
have been at the least problematical, and at the most inconceivable. 
Hitler survived the war as a combat soldier— a rifle carrier — in a 
frontline infantry regiment. The achievement was an extraordinary 
one based on some combination of near-miraculous luck and combat 
skill. The interpretive fussing over whether or not Hitler was a 
combat soldier because he spent most of the war in the part of the 
regiment described as regimental headquarters can be laid to rest as 
follows: Any soldier in an infantry regiment on an active front in the 
west in World War I must be considered to have been a combat sol- 
dier. Hitler’s authorized regimental weapon was the Mauser bolt- 
action, magazine-fed rifle. This gives a basic idea of what Hitler could 
be called upon to do in his assignment at the front. As a regimental 
runner, he carried messages to the battalions and line companies of 
the regiment, and the more important ones had to be delivered under 
outrageously dangerous circumstances involving movement through 
artillery fire and, particularly later in the war, poison gas and the 
omnipresent rifle fire of the skilled British sniper detachments. 

Hitler also served in a rifle company during his regiment’s 
opening engagement in the war near Ypres in French Flanders, a 
four-day battle that turned into one of the most intense and casu- 
alty-filled of the entire war for both the British and the Germans. 
Hitler later wrote a lengthy letter to a Munich acquaintance, Ernst 
Hepp, in which he described the battle and his actions in it. The 



letter reveals an extraordinarily aggressive and dedicated soldier in 
action and has not been challenged by biographers for hyperbole. 
Ever alert for an opportunity to disparage, however, the accepted 
wisdom officiously criticizes his description of the same battle in a 
letter to his landlord, Josef Popp, with the following ineffectually 
rendered argument: 

In his letter, Hitler stated that in the great four-day battle, his 
regiment fell from 3,600 to 611 men — catastrophic casualties. 
Pouncing on this statement, Werner Maser, one of Hitler’s most 
respected biographers and skilled historical researchers, comments 
that “examination of casualty lists shows that on October 29, 1914, 
the day the regiment received its baptism of fire, it lost 349 dead,” 
and during the period of October 30 to November 24, 373 more. 87 
The author forgetfully fails to include missing, wounded, and cap- 
tured soldiers who were also lost to the regiment. Hitler’s figure is 
more accurate, and the point of such a critique is that the biogra- 
phers feel compelled to take liberties with Hitler that are unheard of 
in virtually any other similarly important historical figure. 

Hitler emerged from World War I as a different man from the 
intense, intelligent, but ineffectual and drifting painter-architect 
who entered it. Hitler biographers agree and dutifully state that the 
war hardened Hitler, but this generalization is presented perfuncto- 
rily with little conviction and with scarcely a comment on how 
important this new quality in Hitler would be for understanding the 
remainder of his life — his towering rise and his precipitous fall. The 
new quality tends to be ignored almost as if it were always there or 
should have been there because, after all, we are describing the bete 
noir of the century. Hitler adds to the seeming naturalness of the 
quality by his historic comments that he would be known as the 
hardest man in history. The biographers, however, do not tell us how 
Hitler became hardened. Instead, they merely add the word at the 
end of their relatively brief sections on World War 1 and give no hint 
of just what “hardening” was and how it would complement the tem- 
perament of the intense artist. 



Hitler had already been hardened by his fall from the comfort- 
able self-study of painting, architecture, grand opera, history, and 
contemporary imperial politics during the period in Linz and 
Vienna. When his inheritance ran out in late autumn 1909, he fell 
into abject poverty, sleeping on public benches and what homeless 
tramps would call “the green blanket” or the lawns of the Vienna 
parks. 88 The weather in central Europe at 48 degrees, 1 3 minutes 
north latitude, for example, approximated the climate of one hun- 
dred miles north of Quebec in Canada. Hitler faced prospects in 
November and December 1909 of incapacitation or death from 
hypothermia and frostbite. The psychological impact of these 
months stretching into early 1910 could have been just as important 
to Hitler’s long-term personality as the “hardening” of war. Hitler 
might have lost the will to be either architect or painter, and simply 
succumbed to the realities of his lack of formal education and rejec- 
tion by the art academy and accepted his fate as a drifter working 
menial jobs. As concerns the issue of the relatively soft and indolent 
young Hitler, he certainly was hardened by this winter of his early 
discontent. Strengthened with a harder disposition by the destruc- 
tive poverty of late 1909 and early 1910, Hitler rose from the ashes 
of near-social destruction to secure a modest living and realistic 
appreciation of the necessities of economic survival. 

World War I hardened Hitler in degree and scope far beyond that 
of the short but desperate privation of the middle Vienna period. The 
high-intensity, armed violence on the western front and the contin- 
uous presence of violent death, maiming, crippling, bloodying, bat- 
tering, deafening, blinding, choking, asphyxiating, psychological 
unhinging, and so on, would test Hitler as no other experience. 
During his long war service, Hitler would see large numbers of 
young Germans dead on the battlefield and many others severely 
wounded. Altogether, the German losses would total a staggering 5.4 
million young men dead or wounded. 89 They would suffer death and 
physical and psychological trauma while carrying out their duty in 
the defense of the fatherland. Based on some innate predilection 



reinforced by his informal studies, Hitler carried out his duty as a 
sacred one and served with that single-minded, aloof determination 
noted by his comrades and superiors. We can generalize that Hitler 
believed he carried the responsibility for the victory of Germany in 
World War I on his shoulders. With four years in the fire-swept 
desert, Hitler was made even more obdurate and unforgiving by the 
finale. He had borne firsthand witness to the sacrifice of 1.8 million 
lives in reairn for the extinction of his beloved Second Reich. 

Hitler cannot be viewed as having successfully created National 
Socialism without bona fide credentials from World War 1. No 
serious leader of an extreme-Right party could exist without ties 
with the Freikorps and without acceptance and respect from the rank 
and file of the various military units. Although Hitler was only a vet- 
eran lance corporal, his four years at the front, his Iron Cross First 
Class, and his wound badge in black demanded respect and accep- 
tance from postwar Reichsheer, Freikorps , and the state police. The 
spirit and style of National Socialism is revealed in the later uni- 
formed, heavily belted and booted political storm troops of the 
tough and intimidating Storm Detachment of the Nazi movement. 
In innumerable photographs in SA-style uniform and civilian 
clothes, Hitler displayed on the left breast area of shirt or jacket the 
Iron Cross First Class and, almost always, the wound badge. These 
were his most impressive pieces of visual evidence speaking to his 
capacity for leadership of the early National Socialists. 

These personal combat decorations would help to save Hitler 
from deportation back to Austria in 1924. In January of that year, in 
anticipation of his being found guilty of treason for his earlier role 
in the uprising of November 1923, the Bavarian government had 
begun the process of deportation. The Bavarian state police 
enquired of the Austrian police in Linz, Hitler’s home town, 90 
whether they would recognize his Austrian citizenship. Two months 
later, in March 1924, the Bavarian police inquired again and the Aus- 
trian regional government replied on April 20, Hitler’s twenty-fifth 
birthday, that it would recognize Hitler’s citizenship and accept his 



deportation to Austria. The Bavarian government accordingly stood 
ready to eject Hitler from Germany upon his release from fortress 
detention by the Bavarian State Court at the end of 1924. 

Hitler faced disaster because it is difficult to imagine him having 
any significant effect on German politics and National Socialism 
while deported to Austria. It is also difficult to imagine how the 
Bavarian authorities would have made their case against Hitler as an 
undesirable alien. It was true he had been tried and found guilty of 
treason, but he had defended himself well in the proceedings and 
would be released by the state court in Munich in December 1924, 
having fulfilled his debt to society. Hitler, however, possessed a pow- 
erful although uncertain defense against deportation as undesirable 
because of his distinguished combat service and his having won 
medals and citations from the German government as a volunteer 
Austrian alien. One can almost see Hitler in court holding his Iron 
Cross First Class in front of him in the direction of the state prose- 
cutor, who would shrink away in its presence. In this critical situa- 
tion, chance favored Hitler when, at the end of September 1924, the 
Austrian government reversed itself by announcing that it would not 
permit him to enter Austria. Hitler thereby became a de facto state- 
less individual, an ideal situation for him because deportation was no 
longer an option for the republic. 

* *■ 


From 1889 through 1919, Hitler was unwittingly preparing for his 
great foray into history. As such, we should be able to get some 
impressions of his supposedly evil nature. It is difficult to imagine 
that the man who has come to personify wickedness would not be 
identified as such by his thirtieth birthday in 1919. Yet the entire 
period is largely devoid of evil that can be attributed to him — either 
as objective fact or as judged by the opinion of others. In his forma- 
tive years, from 1889 through 1908, we see Hitler without a trace of 
evil in his conduct. We can find no evidence of bullying of school- 



mates, no setting fire to domestic pets or other animals, no traumatic 
removal of the wings of insects, and so on. Neither can we find evi- 
dence of criminal behavior such as shoplifting, other theft, van- 
dalism, or burglary — any of which would raise warning signs for the 
future in terms of psychological instability or evil. In the well- 
reported Kubizek period from late 1904 through mid-1908, with its 
additional data from the circumstances of failure at school, lung ail- 
ment, and tragic episode of his mother’s death, the picture remains 
the same. Hitler’s character is one of bold license for a youngster, but 
not directed toward dissolute behavior or activity that gives a hint of 
evil. Hitler devoured grand opera and classical music, painted, 
sketched, planned a great new Linz; he wrote sonnets, communed 
with nature, and exuded politeness and reserve. These are activities 
and qualities that suggest potential, although overblown, aspirations 
to artistic genius. What we see, like it or not, is morally laudable 
behavior and aspiration on the part of a young man in his teens. But 
is there a dark side somewhere in this picture? 

If there were a dark side, it probably would have been the light 
gray of the contempt that he had for many of his school teachers and 
his resistance to formal education. Hitler’s comments in Mein Kampf 
support such contempt and are buoyed by his indelible comment, 
about his tour of the customs office where his father worked, that the 
clerks and officials squatted about as monkeys in cages. Hitler would 
elaborate: “I . . . grew sick to my stomach at the thought of sitting in 
an office, deprived of my liberty; ceasing to be master of my own 
time and being compelled to force the contents of a whole life into 
blanks that had to be filled out.” 91 He may have glimpsed himself as 
a monkey in the cage of his classroom, deprived of his liberty and 
forced to study things of no interest to him. Instead of accepting the 
reality that he must attend the lower grades of public school, 1 litler 
bent reality to conform to his own vision of the ideal life: private 
reading and study. We would suspect that a youngster under such 
circumstance would actually engage in trivial pursuits, but Hitler 
confounds us with ebullient seeking after knowledge in mythology, 



history, music, painting, and architecture and his extensive practice 
of the latter fine arts. We see little evil in the young Hitler, but we 
detect extraordinary intensity which reflects some combination of 
abnormality and genius. 

As concerns Hitler’s worldview, in a single sentence in Mein 
Kampfhe brought together the good, the bad, and the ugly in it by 
describing how his eyes had become opened to the menace that jeop- 
ardized the existence of the German people (the good) by Marxism 
(the bad) and Jewry (the ugly). In his words, “in this period my eyes 
were opened to two menaces of which I had previously scarcely 
known the names, and whose terrible importance for the existence of 
the German people I certainly did not understand: Marxism and 
Jewry.” 92 Hitler’s anti-Semitism emerged from the Vienna experi- 
ence within this worldview, and it follows that it must have been 
completely in place by 1913 when he departed Vienna for Munich. 
Yet little can be derived from the evidence of the day that supports 
a view that Hitler had become a total and uncompromising anti- 
Semite by that time. “In truth, we do not know for certain why, or 
even when, Hitler turned into a manic and obsessive anti-Semite,” as 
noted by Kershaw. 93 

Mein Kampfis probably the key, and it is not so much a conven- 
tionally rendered book as it is a speech by Hitler to whoever would 
listen. The book has a rough-edged quality that makes it more effec- 
tive somehow than something more polished but lacking in intensity. 
Instead of being a literary sculpture likened to Michelangelo’s Pieta 
in Saint Peter’s, it has a darkly different and powerful quality. It is 
more similar to any one of Michelangelo’s incomplete giant captives 
emerging from marble, and each previously placed at one of the four 
corners of the Boboli Gardens in Rome. As a rough-hewn, visionary, 
and coldly logical piece, the book is Hitler, was intended to be Hitler, 
and must contain the why and the how of his anti-Semitism. 

Hitler maintained that he was largely unaware of the presence of 
Jews or a Jewish issue in Austria during his early life in Linz. He 
began his analysis of the “Jewish question” in a personal and distant 



fashion, and we can almost see him staring into the distance, won- 
dering about the whole business. The words have an eerily dreamy 
quality: “Today it is difficult, if not impossible, for me to say when 
the word ‘Jew'’ first gave me ground for special thoughts.” 94 Hitler 
often expressed himself in an inimitably thoughtful and earnest 
manner in Mein Kampf, and it is probably best to use his words rather 
than the more malleable, but always suspect, paraphrase. “At home I 
do not remember having heard the word during my father’s lifetime 
[andj 1 believe that the old gentleman would have regarded any spe- 
cial emphasis on this term as cultural backwardness.” 95 He went on 
to note that there were few jews in Linz and that in the course of the 
centuries, their outward appearance had become Europeanized and 
that, in fact, he had even taken them for Germans — albeit with a 
“strange religion.” 

In early 1908, however, several weeks after his arrival in Vienna, 
he began to encounter the Jewish question though a combination of 
visual sightings in the streets and the existence of an organized 
opposition to the Jews. Hitler commented retrospectively in a 
remarkable picture that “the Jew was still characterized by me by 
nothing but his religion, and therefore, on grounds of human toler- 
ance, I maintained my rejection of religious attacks in this case as in 
others. Consequently, the tone, particularly that of the Viennese 
anti-Semitic press, seemed to me to be unworthy of the cultural tra- 
dition of a great nation.” 96 In his thoughtful and complex style of 
analysis, Hitler continued on to note the following: “Since the news- 
papers in question did not enjoy an outstanding reputation ... I 
regarded them more as the products of anger and envy than the 
[representation] of a principled, though perhaps mistaken, point of 
view.” 97 In the lines above, we see Hitler begin to wrestle with anti- 
Semitism, flatly reject religious anti-Semitism as unworthy of Aus- 
trian cultural tradition, and suspect that the arguments of the anti- 
Semitic press and gutter pamphlets were exaggerated beyond 
credibility by too much subjective and too little objective and prin- 
cipled argument. The view of virtually every Hitler biographer that 



he based his anti-Semitism on arguments derived from the gutter 
press and pamphlets of Vienna does not hold up in the face of the 
words above. To the contrary, we see Hitler take the measure of that 

Hitler painted a picture of a struggle with the vagaries of anti- 
Semitism, which were characterized by repeated rejection of the 
assertions of the anti-Semitic literature. He maintained that “the 
tone for the most part was such that doubts arouse in me, due in part 
to the dull and amazingly unscientific arguments favoring [anti- 
Semitism].” 98 Contrary to the view that Hitler was driven by artistic 
failure and accumulating hate to focus his frustrations on Jewry, he 
would comment that “the whole thing seemed to me to be so mon- 
strous, the accusations so boundless, that, tormented by the fear of 
doing injustice, I again became anxious and uncertain.” 99 Hitler 
faced doubts about anti-Semitism based on the repulsive excesses in 
its argumentation and the lack of “scientific” objectivity. The biog- 
raphers assign frustration and all-consuming hate as largely the basis 
of his affliction. But more realistically we can see the young Hitler 
in his indelible pattern of discovering an issue, studying it to death, 
and then proceeding to create a solution that would be inspiring in 
its lack of sense of proportion and its finality. 

There can be little doubt that the provincial, all-German student 
of Wagner and Poetsch experienced disquieting shock at the pres- 
ence of the Slav and the Jew in cosmopolitan Vienna a few weeks 
after his arrival there in February 1908. Hitler stated that by two 
years later (i.e., roughly February 1910), he had become a convinced, 
objective, racial anti-Semite, and we face a sparse yet decisive pic- 
ture of his conversion. Kubizek provides convincing corroboration 
of Hitler’s developing anti-Semitism from February through July 
1908 , the latter month being the one in which Kubizek returned 
home for summer vacation from the music conservatory and did not 
see Hitler again until 1938 . Kubizek noted the fact of Hitler’s newly 
developing interest in the Jews of Vienna and, by extension, the 
whole Jewish question. Kubizek gives not a hint of any interest in 



Jewry on the part of Hitler from 1904 through February 1908, and 
we are left with the factual impression that Hitler developed his 
anti-Semitic worldview in the relatively brief period between the 
latter month and roughly November 1909. 

Although Hitler docs not say exactly when he experienced his 
two great insights into Jewry, it is apparent that by sometime in 1909 
he had come to the following conclusions. In his own words: “I could 
no longer very well doubt that the objects of my study were not Ger- 
mans of a special religion, but a people in themselves.” 100 He elabo- 
rated that in this intense study to clarify the Jewish question, “what- 
ever doubts I may still have nourished were finally dispelled by the 
attitude of a portion of the Jews themselves.” 101 With discerning 
precision, he confirmed the national rather than religious character 
of the Jews through the Zionist movement centered coincidentally 
at that time in Vienna. By 1909 a World Zionist Organization was 
coordinating the establishment of Jewish settlements in the 
Ottoman Turkish Empire that were intended to become a modern 
Jewish political state. The organization centered settlement in the 
overwhelmingly Arab administrative divisions of the Sanjaq of 
Jerusalem and the southern part of the Vilayet of Beirut, an area that 
would become part of the British Mandate of Palestine and Trans- 
jordania in April 1920 after the British conquest of the area earlier 
in 1917. Hitler would accurately note the development of a debate 
in world Jewry among Zionist and Liberal Jews over such a formu- 
lation but claim that the debate was a sham because “the so-called 
Liberal Jews did not reject the Zionists as non-Jews but only as Jews 
with an impractical . . . way of publicly avowing their Jewishness.” 102 

Hitler thereby put together a coldly objective picture of world 
Jewry as a uniquely dispersed but politically coherent group of 
human beings. The picture became more subjective when Hitler 
proceeded in his analysis to formulate a conspiracy theory and “now 
linked thejews with every evil he perceived.” 103 Even in this subjec- 
tively tainted theory, however, in which he would blame the jews for 
the disintegration of cultural life and the business of prostitution, 



the demonstrable presence of the Jews in tightly coherent commu- 
nities in virtually every economically significant part of the world 
lent credence to such a theory. And similarly to the strained 
emphasis on the Jews as destroyers of culture, Hitler could objec- 
tively demonstrate their presence and effect in Austrian cultural life 
as totally out of proportion even to their relatively large numbers, 
for example, in Vienna. On the other hand, he could only opine that 
the Jews exerted pernicious and destructive effects in the arts, par- 
ticularly as part of some kind of general conspiracy. 

As concerns evil in Hitler’s formulation, we see little of it in the 
fundamental tenet, as it were, the granite foundation, in which the 
Jews were discovered to be a people apart, camouflaged behind a 
religion. He could easily be comprehended as suggesting that the 
ancient nation of Jews invented its own religion for such a future 
contingency. We see a frustrating mix of objectivity with subjectivity, 
and to compound the frustration, we see little evil in the objective 
foundation of Hitler’s anti-Semitism in contrast with the potential 
for considerable evil in the subjective superstructure. What we see 
here is not the usual picture of an evil, banal Hitler presented retro- 
spectively by hostile “biographers,” but an extraordinarily thought- 
ful and intense young provincial projected into fin de sciecle Vienna. 

With earnestness and seriousness beyond ordinary comprehen- 
sion, he had embraced a German world, German heroes, and 
German tribunes saving great peoples all set within impossibly 
expansive architectural visions. As such, by age eighteen, Hitler can 
be imagined to have developed a conditioned instinct to save 
someone from somebody under heroic circumstances. As Rienzi 
would save his people, Lohengrin would save Elsa, and Siegfried 
would save everybody, Hitler would encounter the mortal enemy of 
the Germans in Vienna in 1908, create an image of him that would 
correspond to the vastness of the danger, and begin, at least psycho- 
logically, to save the Germans. 104 

As concerns the beginning of his anti-Semitism, Hitler could state 
that in Vienna “I obtained the foundations for a philosophy in general 



and a political view in particular which later I needed only to supple- 
ment in detail, hut which never left me .” 105 As concerns Hitler’s ide- 
alistic finality, we can tremble when he exclaims in the context of anti- 
Semitism that “here we are facing the question without whose 
solution all other attempts at a German reawakening or resurrection 
are and remain absolutely senseless and impossible .” 106 

He would present lengthy argument that supported the concept of 
the Germans as Aryans without peer and a people worthy of salvation. 
In a supreme irony in the face of the conventional disparagement of 
the concept of a master race, he juxtaposed it against no less an evil in 
his mind than that of the chosen people — the Semitic tribe that had 
converted to monotheism in an ancient past and had never abandoned 
its claim to apartness from the rest of humanity. Acknowledged by 
most biographers and historians as the great simplifier, Hitler created 
probably his greatest simplification in the Jew as the personification of 
evil, not only in a European context but also worldwide. 

With excruciating intensity, Hitler would argue that the basic 
correctness of the idea of National Socialism was decisive, and the 
difficulty of its execution should not be judged as guilty. “As soon as 
the theoretician attempts to take account of so-called ‘utility’ and 
‘reality’ instead of the absolute truth, his work will cease to be a polar 
star [for voyaging] humanity and instead will be a prescription for 
everyday life ” 107 He would set himself within this picture by writing 
that “in long periods of humanity, it may happen once that the politi- 
cian is wedded to the theoretician,” and continuing that “if the art of 
the politician is really the art of the possible, the theoretician is one 
of those of whom it can be said . . . are pleasing to the gods only if 
they demand and want the impossible .” 108 Hitler doubtless saw him- 
self as a unique union of both in modern times. Literally every biog- 
rapher and historian who has addressed the inception of National 
Socialism has agreed that Hitler both created and led the movement. 
But in this union of theoretician and political leader, this characteri- 
zation of theory as eternal truth, this vision of German resurrection, 
this revelation of an absolute and mortal enemy, this painting of a 



merciless battle between good and evil, we are forced to see the 
whole as greater than the sum of the parts. We can scarcely compre- 
hend Hitler as a pathological demagogue and must see him more 
effectively as an astonishingly idealistic messenger of revealed truth. 

In such an interpretation, Hitler does not have to be bearded, 
clothed in sandals and a white robe, and wandering in from an imag- 
ined Austrian desert to overwhelm the Germans with the word. A mes- 
siah must, however, possess characteristics that set him apart from all 
others. He must be detached from the ordinary cares of the rest of 
humanity yet dedicated to its salvation. He must be afflicted by a dis- 
tant vision revealed to him alone yet which has universal validity and 
simplicity enough to be spread like a firebrand among the masses. Mes- 
siahs do not write for prizes in intellectual journals; they speak to the 
masses. A messiah is indispensable and irreplaceable and cannot be 
interchangeable. He must have a message which can be neither 
changed nor debated, for once the revelation has been received it rep- 
resents eternal truth. And we can no more see Hitler change his vision 
of the Aryan German bearer of the world’s culture under attack by a 
single supreme mortal enemy than we can comprehend Muhammad 
changing his message that there is “no god but God” to accommodate 
tactical circumstance. A messiah must combine some mixture of love 
and hate, and Hitler could state, for example, that as he gradually began 
to hate the enemy in the form of the Jew, the process “had but one good 
side: that in proportion as the real leaders ... of Social Democracy 
came within my vision, my love for my people inevitably grew .” 109 For 
a messiah as the conductor of a battle between good and evil, he must 
be assumed to possess the qualities of love and hate in grand dimen- 
sion. The question of evil resident in messiahs and prophets must take 
account of precariously balanced love and hate and the conduct of an 
ongoing battle between good and evil in the minds of such men. 

Chapter l 


P erhaps the wisest characterization of Adolf Hitler is that he 
was a product of his times. Few could deny this generaliza- 
tion, although the question immediately begs: What were the times? 
How could “the Germans” have allowed themselves to be over- 
whelmed by allegedly so common a man, empty of human emotion, 
dedicated to politics alone — and even there, supposedly only as a 
propagandist? The query is typical in writings about Hitler, but it 
forces us to focus on Hitler and the Germans in answering it rather 
than on other equally important actors of the era. It must be evident 
that since the victors dominated the aftermath of World War I and 
not the vanquished, the more realistic question should be: Just what 
kind of peace (i.e., times) did the victors inflict? Surely the years fol- 
lowing World War I would be the product of the will of the victors, 
and they would set the spirit and substance. The picture was not a 
pretty one, inhabited as it was by powers as imperialistically tough, 
aggressive, and successful as Britain and France and as naively self- 
assured and self-righteous as the United States. These powers, not 
Germany, set the spirit and the practice of the period of Hitler’s rise 
to political power in Germany from 1919 through 1933. 

In searching for and establishing the forces that made possible so 
terrible a phenomenon as Hitler, we must find that in the main he 
stemmed from conditions imposed by the Allies in Europe and only 
to a lesser extent by factors indigenous to Germany. Perhaps a more 




perceptive variation of the “how is it possible” query on Hitler 
would be the following redirection of thinking: How was it possible 
that the British, French, and American governments produced so 
dreadful a phenomenon as the peace of 1919—1933? With terrible 
consequences that could have been foreseen, how could they have 
instituted such a self-serving and so evil a mandate? The peace of 
1919-1933 was based upon the Allied presumption, written into the 
Treaty of Versailles, that “Germany and her allies” were entirely 
responsible for the outbreak of World War I and the “inhumane 
way” in which it was conducted. Other factors, of course, remote 
from Allied control and which were the product of internal German 
social and political trends, would favor Hitler — although some 
might equally well have destroyed him. 

Over and above the honor-style clauses in the Versailles treaty 
similar to the assignment of blame, the Allies made demands and 
inflicted duress so excessive that the word “outrageous” would be 
reasonable to describe the condition in which Germany found itself 
in 1919. The enormity of the situation imposed by the Allies is fun- 
damental for understanding the enormity of National Socialism and 
the attributes of the man who created it and became its focal point. 
The Allies, especially Britain, France, and the United States, 
imposed a situation distressful to most Germans but particularly to 
those inclined toward the nationalist Right and extremists like 
Hitler. The antidote for the helpless hand-wringing of writers who 
agonize over how it was possible for Germans to succumb to this 
allegedly empty man, this nonperson, is to pose this question: How 
was it possible for the Allies to have created conditions so outrageous 
and hu mili ating that they would almost certainly result in a nation- 
alist backlash? Hitler cannot be imagined without the assistance of 
the Versailles treaty and the historical excesses that came to be cen- 
tered in it. 

The various clauses of the treaty were so damaging and created 
so much resentment among Germans that, along with the internal 
situation of a powerful and dangerous Communist Party, readers are 



presented with forces operating in Germany that explain the rise of 
Hitler. Hitler would be furnished with the opportunity to work both 
sides of the German political street — national and international — 
by credibly maintaining that the Independent Socialists and 
Spartacists who agitated against the war internally were responsible 
for Germany’s defeat externally at the hands of the Allies. Marxist 
antiwar policies, especially in the latter half of the war, and armed 
revolution in Russia in late October 1918 lent credence to the claim 
that they stabbed the Imperial German Army in the back and were 
responsible for the loss of the war. Hitler could claim this because 
the Independent Socialists and the Spartacists had organized violent 
strikes in the munitions industry and undermined the war effort on 
the home front. 

As armistice negotiations developed after September 27, 1918, 
the Independent Socialists and Spartacists organized revolutionary 
violence in Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich, Germany’s three largest 
cities at the time. These uprisings became so threatening by 
November 9, 1918, that the last imperial chancellor was forced to 
announce, without legal authority, the abdication of the emperor. 
He then turned over the government of imperial Germany to the 
Majority, and Independent Socialists then proclaimed the formation 
of a German republic. 

The armistice negotiations and the revolutionary actions of 
November 9 took place on the home front behind the field armies, 
which continued to present an intact front to the Allies. Two days 
later, the German republican armistice delegation would sign the 
armistice agreement that would bring the war to an end at the 
eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, 
but with an intact German army in the field that would be marched 
out of France and Belgium under the control of its officers. 

Hitler would receive enormous political capital from the cir- 
cumstances related. He would hammer on the theme of the 
“November Criminals,” specifically Marxist socialists and Liberals, 
and the supporting theme of the German Army being stabbed in the 



back. The conventional wisdom in relating Hitler with the terminal 
stage, and immediate aftermath, of World War I agree that he would 
later conduct effective but unfair propaganda against the Majority 
Socialists who were the strongest base of support for the new 
republic. The conventional interpretation also affirms that Hitler 
made effective attacks against the republicans by representing them 
as traitors who had undermined the war effort. Historians argue, 
however, that the monarchists near war’s end had opportunistically 
turned over the government to others, especially the Socialists and 
various Liberals, and saddled them with the onus of signing the 
armistice and being associated with the loss of the war. Historians go 
on to elaborate a nationalist legend of the stab in the back of the 
German Army, but argue that no such concept can be supported by 
the evidence. The consensus goes on to explain that the whole busi- 
ness was a device of the nationalists to destroy the republic and of 
Germans to blame the defeat of their army on base treachery rather 
than defeat in the field. The consensus flatly rejects the presence of 
a stab in the back. 

Hitler and other nationalists benefited immensely from the con- 
cept of the stab in the back, whether it was true or not. The present 
consensus, however, in rejecting such an interpretation distorts 
reality and demands more realistic analysis. A generalization that 
holds for the end of the war is that by November 1918, imperial Ger- 
many had been defeated for most practical strategic purposes in 
World War I, but the German Army had not yet been defeated in the 
field. The agitation against the war by Marxists and Liberal pacifists 
on the home front had weakened Germany’s strategic situation, and 
similar agitation combined with subversion of army troops in the 
zone of the interior directly threatened the frontline combat forces. 
The German field army was not only obviously intact in November 
but also stood in positions entirely within Belgium and France, 
except for a modest section of Alsace near the Swiss border. It must 
be acknowledged as a remarkable circumstance that the losing army 
occupied positions almost entirely within the territory of the vie- 



tors. For the Allies to engage in armistice negotiations with the 
German government while German field armies lay in Belgium and 
France demands a conclusion that those armies were capable of 
combat beyond the political and military will of the Allies to evict 
them by force. 

It is obviously not true that the main reason for the defeat of the 
German Army in World War I was a stab in the hack through means 
of organized agitation and pacifism on the home front. Tt must be 
equally obvious, however, that such activities were important rea- 
sons for the collapse of the home front by October 1918, and that 
outright armed revolution on the home front from October 29 
through November 9 was the main factor that made it impossible for 
the field armies to continue the fight. The accumulating armed 
strength of the Allies would likely have won out by no later than the 
spring of 1919 with the defeat of the German field armies and the 
forcing of their surrender. The fact remains, however, like it or not, 
that those armies would evacuate Belgium and France under terms 
of a negotiated armistice finalized and signed by a new German 
republican government. And the armistice would be forced by 
armed rebellion in Germany, as it were, in the back of the field 
armies and not in the face of Allied arms and resultant surrender 
and captivity. 

* * * 

Although Germany has remained saddled to the present day with 
sole responsibility for the outbreak of World War I, it can be stated 
unequivocally that such a consensus is unhistorical — unreal and 
incredible — and, in the case of Britain, France, and the United States, 
self-serving. Without reexamining intensively mined historical ter- 
rain, we can see the international scene of August 1914 as one in 
which five great powers and one lesser power with inextricably linked 
interrelationships confronted one another, and the reading public is 
asked to believe that only one of those powers, to the exclusion of all 



others, was responsible for war’s outbreak. The three most aggressive 
and successful imperialistic powers on the face of the globe — Britain 
with an overseas empire of almost 12 million square miles, France 
with overseas colonies totaling 4.8 million square miles, and Imperial 
Russia with a contiguous empire of almost 9 million square miles- — 
simply fall out of the equation. And Serbia, whose government 
wanted the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, planned it, 
and created the tragic act of international terrorism that started the 
war that led to the empire’s extinction, is dismissed with cavalier 
temerity by the consensus as a valueless pawn in the outbreak of 
World War I. 

In the real world of international relations, it must be apparent 
that blame or guilt for the outbreak of war in 1914 must be shared 
among the six main actors of the moment — Germany, Austria- 
Hungry, Britain, France, Russia, and Serbia. The simple device of 
assigning percentages of guilt among the six powers highlights the 
incredibility of the Allied assignment of total blame to Germany in 
the ultimatum of June 16, 1919, to sign the Versailles treaty. The 
same device illuminates the unreality of postwar writers in contin- 
uing to place most blame on Germany. Once the Allied govern- 
ments, led by France, decided to justify excessive reparation by 
clai min g total German guilt, they painted themselves into an unen- 
viable, irrational corner. It is difficult to accept so one-sided an 
assignment given the revanchist foreign policy of France highlighted 
by clamor for the “return” of Alsace and Lorraine, institution of the 
first great modern arms race, formation of an anti-German diplo- 
matic alliance system, and aggressive imperialism in Morocco, 
Tunisia, and the Ottoman Turkish Empire immediately preceding 
the war. The similarly aggressive international policies of Britain 
and Russia and the more limited, but extraordinarily virulent, Ser- 
bian nationalism and its international terrorism also demand assign- 
ment of blame. 

The conventional historical wisdom more realistically, but still 
with unrealistic imbalance, assigns most blame for war’s outbreak to 



Germany. The concept of most blame argued mathematically gives 
Germany at the least 51 percent guilt and presents us with the unre- 
alistic picture of French, British, Russian, and Serbian blame for the 
outbreak of war, taken together, as less than German guilt. The pic- 
ture is incredible, for example, because no serious historian or writer 
could assign France alone much less guilt than Germany. The situa- 
tion described above is an enormity — a study in self-deception and 
vindictive arrogance — on the part of the Allies and is fundamental 
for comprehending Hitler’s appeal to Germans. Even in the more 
general scholarly works on European diplomatic history, authors 
describe Hitler as a fanatic aberration and note, for example, “the 
wonder is that such ranting could capture the imagination and for a 
time control the destinies of what for long had called itself — a claim 
granted by others — a great civilized nation.” 1 

Biographers and other writers consistently express the theme of 
Hitler’s “rantings” and the wonder of how the Germans could have 
accepted such a lack of constraint. Yet Hitler’s “rantings” can 
scarcely be claimed to have exaggerated the actual German situation 
dictated by Versailles. The stiff French enforcement of the treaty 
can be correlated directly with the descent of republican Germany 
into political, economic, and social chaos, especially during 
1919-1923 and then again in 1929-1933. The Allies fastened war 
guilt on republican Germany, split the republic into two parts terri- 
torially, squabbled among themselves over reparation, delivered an 
exorbitant bill two years after the treaty signing, and conducted 
armed incursions into Germany to force payment. It was a situation 
that demanded, and got, an Adolf Hitler. The great biographers and 
the conventional historians, however, bring 1 litler and the Germans 
into such tight focus that Georges Clemenceau, Raymond Poincare, 
and the French fade from serious consideration. The French, to the 
contrary, should occupy the foreground of the picture in 1919-1933 
Europe, and derigueur be the path along which we have to pass to get 
at 1 litler and the Germans. If we take that path through the excesses 
of Versailles to get at Hitler, the wonder is that a country, which had 



long called itself a civilized nation, could have perpetrated a treaty 
so self-serving and vindictive that it fastened on Germany’s political, 
social, and economic conditions that were indispensable in bringing 
to power the most terrible phenomenon of the twentieth century. 
And if a final wonder be in order, in the last German Reichstag elec- 
tion of November 1932, before the bandwagon effects of Hitler 
being appointed chancellor, only one German in three voted for 
Hitler — hardly a proportion of the voting population to support the 
tired generalization above that “the Germans” fell in as lemmings 
behind him. 

Probably, though, the greatest trauma for Germans arising out of 
World War I was the combination of human casualties and the loss of 
the war. Imperial Germany suffered the combat deaths of 1,813,000 
young men aged roughly seventeen to thirty (Hitler was twenty-five 
years old in 1914) comprising sons, husbands, brothers, and nephews 
killed in action or of their wounds. These losses contributed to the 
psychological monstrosity of the loss of the war. The numbers are 
staggering in an absolute sense and equally appalling relative to the 
contemporaneous German population of approximately sixty-five 
million. Adding to the carnage would be the presence of roughly one 
million severely wounded, their injuries characterized by noticeable, 
cruel, and incapacitating losses of arms, legs, hands, feet, and eyes. In 
the interwar period, two things characterized the streets of German 
cities, unlike interwar US cities but like French towns, and they were 
the presence of the maimed and the absence of an entire generation 
of young men. So what is the implication for an extremist national 
political movement? Hitler would begin his messianic calling in a 
population where virtually every citizen would have been touched by 
death or maiming in a cause lost. 

*• * * 

To the unique advantage of Hitler and other extreme nationalists, 
the war would create a new man, and this man would furnish for the 



first time in modern Europe a political street-fighting animal to 
counterbalance the riotous, bourgeois, barricade mounter and 
socialist, working-class, street intimidator. This new man would be 
fearsome indeed. Witness an adolescent male at age eighteen 
entering the war late in 1914, surviving, and departing it at the end 
of 1918. This able-bodied young man’s experience of life would 
have been four years of combat against an armed enemy, action 
hardly suited for a smooth transition into a postwar world. It is a 
monument to the times that the smoothest transition in Germany 
was the one from the last days of a lost war into one of the great rev- 
olutions of the modern era, followed in turn by five years of polit- 
ical street battles, starvation, partial military occupation, and a cruel 
and unusual combination of inflation and unemployment. Many of 
the young survivors of the war never made the transition back to the 
world but remained forever in the trenches. As one of them wrote: 

War, father of all things, is also our father. It has hammered us, 
chiseled us and hardened us into what we are. ...As long as the 
wheel of life revolves within us, the war will be the axis around 
which it swirls. It has reared us for battle and we shall remain 

fighters as long as we live Under the skin of all technical and 

cultural progress we remain naked and raw like men of the forest 
and of the steppe. . . . [This fighter] is the new man, the pioneer of 
the storm, the [warrior prince] of central Europe — This war is 
not the end but the new ascendancy of force ... might will be 
seized with a hard fist. 2 

The famed and indispensable political street-fighting arm of the 
National Socialists represents this element of the times. Selected 
rougher elements in the movement were organized initially into 
small teams to defend, by physical force, the early political meetings. 
These self-defense elements quickly evolved into a larger, uni- 
formed element designated the Sturmabteilung (SA), and the men 
within it were seen as political storm troops. Outfitted early in this 
process, quite by chance, in excess stocks of German army tropical 



brown shirts, they became the notorious Brown Shirts, who chal- 
lenged for the first time in Germany the street- fighting elements of 
the Social Democratic Party and the Communists. Derived in spirit 
from the army storm companies and battalions of 1917—1918, the SA 
exemplified a part of the times in which Hitler would come to life 
politically, survive, and flourish. 

* * * 

For the Germans, the road to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 
and the Versailles treaty led through the earlier armistice negotia- 
tions of late 1918. The German Army High Command, pressed hard 
by the great battles on the western front in the autumn of 1918, 
advised the civilian imperial German government under Emperor 
William II of Hohenzollern on October 29, 1918, to initiate 
armistice negotiations with the Allies immediately while the army 
was still intact. The German government appealed to US president 
Woodrow Wilson, in his second term at the time, for peace based on 
the president’s Fourteen Points of January 1918. During an exchange 
of diplomatic notes between Berlin and Washington, with Wilson 
speaking in the name of the Allies, the latter insisted that negotia- 
tions for both armistice and peace could proceed only through a 
German government that was in the process of democratizing itself 
and the parallel removal of “the military masters of Germany.” Here 
we see the Allies dictating the removal of the emperor and the 
Prussian-dominated army high command who had led the war 
fighting — a questionable, propaganda-driven demand on the part of 
the victors. We also see the Allies dictating changes in the existing 
imperial German constitution that would transfer ultimate political 
power in the empire from the Prussian royal house of Hohenzollern 
to the parliament. Such a situation was only a hairbreadth from 
casting out centuries of princely rule in the numerous states that 
comprised the German Empire in 1918. 

A hairbreadth proved to be too close to continue princely con- 



slitutional rule. As the loss of World War 1 gathered around them, 
the Germans faced external dictates of the Allies and internal 
Marxist revolutionary pressures, which led to the declaration of a 
German republic on November 9, 1918. On that day the leaders of 
the evolutionary majority wing of the Social Democratic Party cre- 
ated a relatively moderate republic in order to prevent the revolu- 
tionary wing of the party — the so-called Spartacists, soon to take the 
name Communists — from creating an internationally oriented Red 
republic. Germany could have suffered few more radical political 
changes, and a thousand years of rule by princes were swept away on 
that day. Based thereby on the earlier call for peace negotiations by 
the first quartermaster general of the army, Erich Ludendorff, Ger- 
many descended into epic chaos in the period from September 1918 
through November 1923, the latter month signaling stability, finally, 
for the new republic. The intensity of the chaos has not been ade- 
quately correlated with the rise of Hitler. 

The conventional wisdom generalizes, for example, that the 
feeble resistance to Hitler would be associated with alleged German 
inexperience with parliamentary politics, democratic government, 
and the like. This type of argument about German political naivete 
becomes divorced from conditions in Germany that would have 
tried more politically sophisticated populations and were, in fact, so 
extreme that the more relevant question should probably be: How is 
it possible that so few Germans succumbed to Hitler’s blandish- 
ments and that so many proved to be immune to them? It is easy to 
ignore the reality that close to the time of Hitler’s “seizure of 
power” in the Reichstag election of November 6, 1932, just before 
Hitler was appointed chancellor through presidential fiat, that the 
National Socialists received only 33.1 percent of the German 
national vote and were supported by only 26.2 percent of eligible 
German voters in the last unfettered election. This fact alone oblit- 
erates conventional generalizations that the Germans offered rela- 
tively little resistance to Hitler during his rise to power. 

Germans faced a black present and a bleak future in November 



1918. The Second Reich of Otto von Bismarck and William I, a polit- 
ical edifice that was controlled ultimately by William in his alternate 
role as King of Prussia, was dismantled through changes in the impe- 
rial German constitution. The last imperial chancellor, Prince Max 
von Baden, had pushed through these changes at Allied insistence 
and was able to affirm on October 27 that peace negotiations were 
being conducted by a German government free of arbitrary and irre- 
sponsible influence. The Allied governments, in a concluding note of 
November 5, 1918, explicitly stated their willingness to make a just 
peace with the democratized German government based on Presi- 
dent Wilson’s address to the US Congress in January 1918 and prin- 
ciples presented in subsequent addresses. Disastrously for the future 
of Europe, the new German and the old Allied governments did not 
then conclude an armistice in the period from October 28 through 
November 5, 1918. The British government in particular fussed over 
interpretation of the words “freedom of the seas” in the American 
president’s address of January 1918, and the German chancell or was 
only able to announce the abdication of William II on November 8. 
During the fateful period of dilatoriness, the German revolution 
intensified and culminated on November 9 in a new republic. The ill- 
timed republic was inherently less stable and no more democratic 
than an empire would have been with a relative of William named as 
a successor and a government ultimately responsible to “the people” 
through the earlier constitutional changes. 

The so-called Majority Socialists of the Social Democratic 
Party, who had been handed the government by the discredited 
monarchists, faced revolution in turn by the Independent and 
Spartacist elements of the party. The Independents fell apart, grav- 
itating to become either Majority Socialists or Spartacists, and the 
latter continued revolutionary activity as Communists to overthrow 
the new republic. 

One of the grand generalizations about the entire 1918-1933 
period is that Germans exaggerated the challenge from the Com- 
munists. Writers commonly note, for example, that Hitler took 



advantage of the burning of the Reichstag on February 27, 1933, by 
blaming it on them. He would claim danger so great that his new 
government required special emergency powers, temporarily sus- 
pending certain constitutional guarantees, in order to combat it. 
Writers point out with retrospective accuracy that the Communists 
were no longer a mortal danger to the republic. As a result, these 
writers brand the Germans as politically naive for succumbing to 
such claims. The writers fail to counterbalance the suggested naivete 
with the extreme violence and grave danger to the republic in Com- 
munist uprisings from 1918 through 1933, intimidating propaganda, 
and the Communist revival during the depression years of 1930 
through 1933. The Communists, in self-defeating revolutionary ver- 
biage, had actually threatened to burn the Reichstag. Faced with this 
background to February 27, the German people would seem to have 
had prudent concerns over the Communists and the possibility of 
another uprising under the devastating conditions of the German 
depression in early 1933. 

The Germans had been particularly radicalized by the combina- 
tion of the reparation-induced inflation of 1923 and the equally ter- 
rifying depression in place in 1933. In such a situation they had given 
50 percent of the Reichstag vote in November 1932 to the parties 
dedicated to the destruction of the republic — 33.1 percent went to 
the Nazis and 16.9 percent to the Communists. The times as exem- 
plified by the Versailles treaty had created these conditions within 
which the Nazis had just come to power and continued to battle Ernst 
Thaelmann and the Communists for successful revolution. But how 
could a peace treaty, no matter how ill-founded, have created times 
so significant for understanding the success of Hitler? And is it pos- 
sible that the outrageousness of the Versailles treaty can be balanced 
against the enormity of Hitler’s actions of 1933-1945? As it were, can 
we balance outrageousness against enormity for superior compre- 
hension of Hitler? The answer to these latter questions is probably 
yes, for as the armistice was signed on November 11, the Allied gov- 
ernments abandoned the principle of a just and moderate peace. 



* * 


The Allied governments, for example, with the British as executors, 
maintained in place the food blockade of Germany that had been in 
effect since 1917. A British authority would note that “in the last two 
years of the war, nearly 800,000 noncombatants died in Germany 
from starvation or diseases attributed to undernourishment. The 
biggest mortality was among children between the ages of 5 and 1 5, 
where the death rate increased by 55 percent. . . a whole generation 
[the one which had been born and lived during Hitler’s rise to 
power] grew up in an epoch of undernourishment and misery such 
as we [British] have never in this country experienced.” 3 A distin- 
guished American authority on United States foreign policy in the 
first half of the twentieth century, Stanford University professor 
Thomas A. Bailey, noted that “the Allied slow starvation of Ger- 
many’s civilian population was quiet, unspectacular, and censored.” 4 
The Englishman Gilbert Murray, writing in 1933, noted that future 
historians would probably regard the establishment and continua- 
tion of the blockade as one of those many acts of almost incredible 
inhumanity which made World War I conspicuous in history. 5 

With a hint of defensiveness, the Allies noted in their June 16, 
1919, ultimatum to the German government to sign the Versailles 
treaty that, although they had imposed on Germany an exception- 
ally severe blockade, they had sought consistently to conform to the 
principles of international law and had imposed the blockade 
because of “the criminal character of the war initiated by Germany 
and of the barbarous methods adopted by her in prosecuting it.” 6 
This official statement is noteworthy for its self-assured but never- 
theless unhistorical assumption that Germany initiated World War I 
and prosecuted it in a criminal and barbarous manner. Notwith- 
standing, however, the self-assuredness about German guilt, the 
allies revealed a bad conscience about the blockade. They noted, for 
example, that they sought to conform with international law in the 
imposition of the blockade and then, straining for justification for so 



cruel and inhumane a policy, they claimed a criminal character to 
the war imposed on them by Germany. 

How can this moderately complex but important issue of the 
blockade be summarized in order to prevent the various details from 
intruding on the historical interpretation of an issue so significant 
for the postwar German condition and the rise of Hitler? It can be 
generalized that the Allies inflicted a cruel wartime blockade on 
Germany, affecting almost entirely noncombatants. As it extended 
into the period of the peacetime treaty negotiations, this action 
became criminally inhumane. It can be further generalized that the 
misery and revulsion in Germany over the enormity of 800,000 
human beings dying from the immediate effects (e.g., direct starva- 
tion and malnutrition-induced fatal disease) of the food blockade is 
indispensable for comprehending Hitler’s success as the leader of an 
extreme nationalist political movement. Yet in the latest major biog- 
raphy of Hitler, we can find only understated reference to the exis- 
tence of such a blockade, a troubling cloudiness that suggests accep- 
tance of either a historical theory of a morally justifiable food 
blockade or the author’s conscious rejection of such an action as sig- 
nificant for comprehending the rise of Hitler. 7 

*■ * * 

The German Armistice Commission headed by the Catholic Center 
Party leader, Matthias Erzberger, agreed to the Allied terms for an 
armistice in negotiations during November 8 through 11, 1918. The 
fighting in World War I ended on November 1 1 , and the two sides to 
the great conflict began preparations for the peace conference that 
would put together the various treaties that would finalize the war’s 
outcome. The peace conference would be held in Paris, and the most 
important negotiations would be between Germany and the Allies at 
Versailles, approximately twenty-two kilometers southeast of the 
center of the capital. Against a complex background of national 
elections, political unrest, and armed revolutions in the major states 



in Europe, preparations moved surprisingly fast for the conference, 
which opened formally on January 18, 1919, Discussion centered on 
the provisions of a treaty between Germany and the Allies and were 
dominated by an Allied Supreme Council, the so-called Big Ten, 
and (after March 25, 1918) the Big Four — Woodrow Wilson, David 
Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, and Vittorio Orlando. 

In a bizarre historical scene divorced from the reality of any pre- 
vious treaty, these four men, each supported by a large staff, created 
a draft treaty without the presence of a single German representa- 
tive. Since an international treaty is an agreement created through 
negotiation among two or more political entities, it is difficult to 
claim in the case of Versailles that a treaty as had been understood 
by that time in history came into existence. The draft that the Big 
Four created in the name of the twenty-seven Allied and Associated 
Powers between March 27 and May 7, 1919, was in fact built out of 
fiercely argued negotiations among the four principal states repre- 
senting one party to the “treaty.” As concerns negotiations between 
the Allies and the German government, none took place. The 
German delegation to the Paris Peace Conference was first 
addressed by the president of the Peace Conference, Clemenceau, 
on the afternoon of May 7. Clemenceau spoke ex cathedra the words: 
“You have asked for peace. We are prepared to offer you peace — 
There will be no verbal discussions, and observations must be sub- 
mitted in writing.” 8 The Allies submitted the draft treaty to the 
German delegation the next day, May 8, 1919, and the German del- 
egation submitted vigorous protesting observations in the nature of 
counterproposals that resulted in no changes of any substance to the 
draft. On June 16, 1919, the Allies responded to the earlier German 
counterproposals in a document that amounted to an ultimatum — 
ending as it did with the words: “As such the treaty in its present- 
form must be accepted or rejected,” a bare threat that if the treaty 
were rejected as it stood, its terms would be enforced unilaterally. 

The covering letter to the Allied reply was the most important 
document in the exchange of notes during the Paris Peace Confer- 



ence and comprised a savage, unhistorical indictment of both the 
German imperial government and the German people. “Never in 
history had such a terrible indictment been passed on a European 
nation as a whole.” 9 In 1919 and the following years, millions of Ger- 
mans would learn of the indictment through the schools and the 
press. The Germans became aware of the branding of an entire 
people as part of an international criminal conspiracy. But how 
could the words in a mere covering letter, notwithstanding its official 
sanction by the Allied governments, translate into eventual mass 
support for an extreme nationalist like Hitler? Witness the following 
excerpts from the letter: 

In General: “The conduct of Germany is almost unexampled in 
human history. The terrible responsibility which lies at her doors 
can be seen in the fact that no [fewer] than seven million dead lay 
buried in Europe, while more than twenty million others carry 
upon them the evidence of wounds and sufferings, ‘because Ger- 
many saw fit to gratify her lust for tyranny by resort to war.’” 

In Detail: “[the Rulers of Germany] commenced the subma- 
rine campaign with its piratical challenge to international law, and 
its destruction of great numbers of innocent passengers and 
sailors in mid-ocean, far from succor, at the mercy of the winds 
and the waves, and the yet more ruthless submarine crews.” 

The above exaggerated, almost hysterical allegations in the Allied 
letter of June 16, 1919, and similar ones in the document, set the spirit 
of the times. 'The Allied note from which the above allegations were 
extracted represents the enormity of the situation about as succinctly 
and accurately as it can be expressed in terms of the binding accusa- 
tions of the victors in World War 1. The treaty forced on the Germans 
shortly after, on June 28, reiterated the spirit and established the times. 
Hitler, the artist, the architect, the would-be Wagnerian-stylcd Ger- 
manic hero, the already hardened, remorseless war hero, and the 
aspiring nemesis of German Marxism and its alter ego “European 
Jewry,” would flourish as no other in these times. 



The Allied Powers that wrote the treaty and dictated it to the 
Germans could not escape domination by their own wartime propa- 
ganda. The treaty has been attacked with devastating argument from 
many directions, but with little effect on reassessment of European 
history in the twentieth century. Quite astonishingly, serious and 
reputable historians continue as apologists for a treaty that concen- 
trates within its articles the times that drove Europe toward World 
War II. The following sentences are typical of the continuing 
divorcement from reality about the qualities of the treaty and the 
dubious attempts at defense: “From a general world point of view it 
is difficult to see how the peacemakers, laboring under the tensions 
and pulls of so numerous and varied a concatenation of national 
interests and demands, could have done much better than they did. 

. . . Certainly by comparison with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which 
the Germans imposed on Bolshevik Russia, it was a model of fair- 
ness and generosity.” 10 

One could reply that the treaty might have been negotiated with a 
German delegation. Leon Trotsky, in contrast, not an insignificant 
Bolshevik, was present at Brest to negotiate, and the contention of 
unfairness in the Brest-Litovsk Treaty is based largely on the 
German creation of client buffer states in the east. But the 2004 con- 
temporaneous scene in Europe undermines the contention of 
unfairness, because the states claimed by the conventional wisdom 
to have been torn so unjustly from Russia under Brest-Litovsk, 
namely Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, all chose 
independence when presented with the opportunity to escape from 
the latter-day Bolshevik Russia of the early 1990s. 

In the treaty of June 29, 1919, there would be a pattern of exces- 
sive severity combined with unhistorical accusations impugning 
national honor of the Germans. The excessive severity would come 
from a France unable to adjust to the new reality of a recently created 
German state in place of the former, exorbitantly large number of 
tiny principalities that had made up the German-speaking area of 
Europe. Before 1800, the map of “Germany” consisted of 314 states 



and 1,475 estates, making a total of 1,789 sovereign entities. 11 As late 
as 1870, “Germany” comprised thirty-eight separate states, and even 
when the German Empire was created on January 18, 1871, it was 
forced to accommodate under a new imperial government a total of 
twenty-five states. France had reveled for centuries in this extraordi- 
narily favorable situation and had advanced into territory inhabited by 
German-speaking populations including, for example, Lorraine and 
Alsace. Clemenceau, the patriotic, tough, and vindictive nemesis of 
Imperial Germany, would promise France security through annexa- 
tion of German territory to the fatefully conceptualized natural 
boundary of the Rhine. Along with Marxism and European Jewry, 
Hitler would come to rank France as the great enemy of Germany — 
although in the quite different sense that it was a respected, cultured 
nation-state and as such was a dangerous foreign enemy. 

The unhistorical accusations that the Allies inserted into the 
treaty impugning German honor came from a different direction. 
The major Allies, faced with the challenges of keeping their popu- 
lations fighting in an unprecedented total war, embraced propaganda 
characterized by unrealistic exaggeration, hate, and difficult-to- 
fulfill promises in the event of victory. The Allies broadcast the 
dubious claim that the Germans wanted, planned, and started World 
War I, conducting it with inhuman savagery. The winning party in 
the British khaki elections of December 1918 would promise that 
German “war criminals” would be punished, and the Germans 
would pay the costs of the war. Buffeted by French and British pro- 
paganda-tinged insistence on German war guilt, President Wilson, 
who had espoused a peace of justice and fairness, collapsed in the 
face of French and British pressures. In a reversal of his statesman- 
like moderation during the armistice negotiations, he would swing to 
the view that the Germans had to be punished. As a result of the 
psychological situation of the first half of 1919, the major Allies cre- 
ated imperial German war guilt, and France acted to produce a 
treaty that embodied punishment rather than conciliation. Distin- 
guished Allied figures of the day unambiguously recorded their 



views that the treaty was prologue to disaster and warned their gov- 
ernments of the potential for political and economic catastrophe and 
the onset of another war. But a miniscule nonentity in 1919, who 
contributed nothing to such a treaty and had little to do with the 
establishment of the times, would grow shoulders so large by 1939 
that they would obscure entire great powers that vanish when the 
causes of World War II are analyzed. 

But how could any treaty, even one that would emerge from the 
end of World War I, be ill-conceived enough to lead in only twenty 
years to an even greater conflict? At the very beginning of the treaty, 
parts two and three give concern for fairness and functionality. 
Those parts represent territories taken from Germany and given to 
various states on its frontiers. The Allies would compensate the 
innocent and unoffending state of Belgium, which — although neu- 
tral at war’s beginning — had thoughtfully fortified its boundary 
against Germany. Belgium would take the German frontier districts 
of Eupen, Malmedy, and Moresnet as compensation for war dam- 
ages. The Allies would have been better served morally and func- 
tionally to have taken almost any other action — monetary compen- 
sation or delivery of goods and services, for example. The morality 
of transferring German territory inhabited by approximately fifty 
thousand Germans and virtually no “Belgians” as compensation for 
damages was typical of confused thinking about punishing the 
former enemy. Belgium, since its modern inception in 1831, has been 
plagued by friction between its 60 percent Flemish-speaking and 40 
percent Wallonian-speaking populations comprising two differing 
cultural communities, and it scarcely needed a third community of 
Germans. The intensity of the friction and its persistence is illus- 
trated by the Belgian parliament’s constitutional amendments of 
1977, which created three separate cultural communities, namely, 
Flemish, Wallonian, and German. 

* * * 



In one of the most bitter struggles among the Big Four at Paris and 
Versailles, Clemenceau attempted to annex German territory to the 
west bank of the Rhine River in the name of French security. The US 
and British governments could not agree to so dangerous and dys- 
functional an expansion of French territory but nevertheless agreed 
to vast changes that were both economically crippling and humili- 
ating to Germany. As concerns the generalization “economically 
crippling,” Germany would lose 75 percent of its iron ore production 
and 40 percent of its coal. For an era in which economics of the larger 
industrialized states pivoted around steel production — much iron, a 
little carbon, some alloying metals, and a large heat source — 
Germany would face huge adjustments in continuing to produce 
steel. It could be argued, of course that the iron ore taken from Ger- 
many was largely from Lorraine, which had recently been taken from 
France along with neighboring Alsace after the Franco-Prussian War 
of 1870-1871. In the end, the Germans lost World War I and should 
have been prepared to suffer the consequences of the loss, particu- 
larly under the circumstances noted above. Unfortunately instead of 
just taking the territory, the Allies — in what would become a syn- 
drome in the treaty — could not resist including the humiliating 
moral judgment that the land was being ceded “to redress the wrong 
done by Germany in 1870.” These words have provoked little con- 
troversy among several generations of historians, who accept as 
obvious a view that Germany had committed a wrong against France 
in 1870, apparently though the immoderate territorial avarice of 
having torn away Alsace and Lorraine. 

The entrenched wisdom would have its readers believe that the 
Franco-Prussian War was largely the heady scheme of the Prussian 
chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, to unify finally under Prussia the 
thirty-eight states of Germany through means of a national (i.e., all- 
German) fight against the traditional predator of France. Indeed, 
broadly stated, this was Bismarck’s ambition. The entrenched wisdom 
rarely presents with conviction the other half of the picture, in which 
the emperor Napoleon 111 and the imperial party surrounding him 



required an imperial policy of territorial aggrandizement and sought 
to put the upstart Prussian kingdom in its proper place after its pres- 
tigious victory over Austria in 1866. The same wisdom fails to inform 
us that France only recently, in historical terms, had seized these eth- 
nically and culturally German areas. Though essentially German, 
these states were unable to maintain their independence against a 
state so large and powerful as France. In a telling commentary on the 
concept of a wrong done to France, it could be noted that the French 
census of 1931 for the departments of Moselle, Haut-Rhin, and Bas- 
Rhin (Alsace-Lorraine) showed 10 percent of the population 
speaking French but with 90 percent speaking German, a statistic that 
does not support a case for Allied blandishment of Germany. 

The Allies treated the Germans heavy-handedly in the Rhine- 
land. The Germans lost sovereignty over the territory in the fol- 
lowing manner: The Saarland or Saar Basin area was placed under 
the governing control of an international commission, and its coal 
mines were ceded to France as compensation for the German 
destruction of French coal mines in the northern areas occupied by 
the Germans during the war. The Allies forced the Germans to 
endure this economically dysfunctional situation for fifteen years 
until a plebiscite would be held to determine if “the inhabitants” 
(i.e., the Germans) living there would prefer union with France, 
Germany, or continuation of the international controls. The Allies 
also occupied the Rhineland in three zones as well as three thirty- 
mile deep bridgeheads centered on Cologne, Koblenz, and Mainz, 
with armed forces from France, Britain, the United States, and Bel- 
gium to ensure treaty enforcement. The eastern zone centered on 
Mainz was to be occupied by foreign troops for fifteen years. And if 
these conditions were not enough to help German nationalist parties 
gain adherents, the Allies proceeded to “demilitarize” Germany — 
not only on the left bank of the Rhine but also within an area thirty 
miles deeper into Germany along its northern bank. The Allies 
demilitarized the Rhineland by forbidding the presence of German 
troops, fortifications, mobilization installations, and maneuver areas. 



The Allied military occupation of the Rhineland and the three 
bridgeheads east of the Rhine, combined with the demilitarization of 
the area, would be laden with consequence for Hitler, the Germans, 
the French, and even the Americans. Thwarted by the governments 
of Britain and the United States in attempting annexation to the west 
bank of the Rhine and achieving control over its own destiny, France 
was forced to accept the promise of a mutual defense treaty with 
Britain and the United States. When the government of the United 
States reneged on its promise and irresponsibly and immorally 
defected from the creation of such a treaty, and Britain, citing the US 
defection, refused a bilateral security treaty with France, the French 
government was left perched in the Rhineland to enforce the Ver- 
sailles treaty largely alone. In a similar astounding vein, although the 
Wilson administration had signed the Versailles treaty, the US Senate 
rejected it terminally on March 19, 1920. And finally, although 
Wilson had championed a League of Nations, the United States did 
not join that organization during the entire interwar period. The con- 
sequences of the above situation were disastrous for the peace of 
Europe and for the survival of the Weimar Republic. 

Deserted by the United States, of diminished foreign policy 
interest to Britain, and incapable of allying with Soviet Russia, 
France faced Germany alone. Under these circumstances, France 
was forced to clutch at the Versailles treaty as its main source of 
security. The presence of French ground troops in the Rhineland 
and the bridgeheads to the east until 1930 would give the French 
government leverage to force German adherence to the treaty. 
Where would Hitler begin to fit into this picture of Europe domi- 
nated by the times put in place by the Paris Peace Conference? 
Hitler’s first nationally significant political action— the Munich Beer 
Hall Putsch of early November 1923 — would be forced on him by 
the disastrous conditions created by German resistance throughout 
1923 to the French military seizure of the Ruhr, the rough equiva- 
lent of the British industrial midlands and the US industrial space 
between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Gary, Indiana. The post- 



Clemenceau bete noir of Germany, Prime Minister Raymond Poin- 
care, the tough, pitiless, strong man who had only recently “saved 
the franc,” had ordered the invasion to force German adherence to 
the letter of the reparation imposed under the Versailles treaty. 

* * 


The Allies would inflict the main territorial losses on Germany, 
however, in the east. There, President Wilson’s thirteenth point, “an 
independent Poland to include territories indisputably Polish, with 
free and secure access to the sea,” came into play with the resulting 
imposition of disastrous territorial conditions that would become 
the immediate causus belli for World War II. At the most general level 
of consideration, the Polish government census of 1931 reflects the 
state that Wilson and the Allies brought into existence as largely 
Polish but whose makeup was disastrously diverse, specifically, 22 
million Poles and 9.9 million non-Polish in speech and ethnicity. 
The numbers do not support a view of an indisputably Polish state 
and suggest problems for Poland, internally and externally. The 
numbers, in fact, border on incomprehensibility as they are sup- 
posed to reflect the makeup of an indisputably Polish state. Poland 
would endure, as a result, tension with Soviet Russia over 3.2 million 
Ukrainians and 2.2 million Ruthenians and face further danger from 
1.7 million others including especially Germans, Lithuanians, and 
Czechs. Poland would continue to encompass an indigestible immi- 
grant population of 2.7 million Jews considered by the Polish gov- 
ernment as a non-Polish racial, linguistic, and religious national 
minority. Here we see the Allies playing freely and loosely with 
ethnic reality in eastern Europe. In areas where the Allies decided to 
hold plebiscites, the inhabitants of the districts of Allenstein and 
Marienwerder, a supposedly ethnic gray area in East Prussia, voted 
in 1920 to remain in Germany, 460,103 to 15,927. 12 

Article eighty-eight of the Versailles treaty provided for a 
plebiscite to be held in Upper Silesia, which was part of Germany 



bat inhabited by a sizeable Polish population and coveted by the 
Poles for its coal reserves and mines. The Allies held the plebiscite 
on March 20, 1921, and the Germans won — well over half the pop- 
ulation voted to remain in Germany, specifically, 717,122 votes 
versus 483,154. The treaty, however, kept the final disposition of the 
area for the Allies to determine based on the strained but not unrea- 
sonable point that in some areas there would be significant majori- 
ties of either Poles or Germans, notwithstanding the fact that the 
Germans “won” the plebiscite overall. No general historical work on 
this part of the twentieth century has elucidated that the Allies had 
in fact conducted a census that would allow them (with their com- 
plete freedom of action) to partition the area to the greatest degree 
possible to the benefit of the Poles, who, as it turned out, had “lost” 
the plebiscite. 

The subtlety of the Allied position was lost on the extreme 
Polish nationalists. Fearing after the plebiscite that Poland would 
“lose” all of Upper Silesia, armed irregulars under the Polish 
extremist Wojciech Korfanty, with the physical support of the Polish 
government and tacit support of the French government, moved into 
Upper Silesia on May 3, 1921, unopposed by the French occupying 
forces. The outraged moderate Weimar government protested to the 
Allied Supreme Council to no avail and was forced to support res- 
urrected armed right wing volunteers, the Freikorps , to oppose the 
illegal proceedings. The enormity of the situation is illustrated by 
the parallel outrage of the British prime minister David Lloyd 
George over the situation in a speech to the House of Commons on 
May 13, 1921, in which he pointed out that “either the Allies ought 
to insist upon the treaty being respected, or they ought to allow the 
Germans to do it. Not merely to disarm Germany, but to say that 
such troops as she has got arc not to be permitted to take part in 
restoring order [in Upper Silesia] in what, until the decision comes, 
is their own province — that is not fair play. Fair play is what England 
stands for, and I hope she will stand for it to the end.” 13 

In order to assure Poland of free and unfettered “access to the 



sea,” the Allies took the German province of West Prussia, which 
included the well-developed former medieval Hanseatic port of 
Danzig, and recast it as the Polish province of Pomerelia and the 
internationalized city and surrounding district of Danzig. The new 
Polish territory of Pomerelia held a significant number of Germans 
stemming from the medieval colonization of the area, especially 
during the period 1134—1290 under princes of the House of Anhalt 
and the slightly later German settlers introduced by the Teutonic 
Knights (the militant Order of Saint Mary’s Hospital at Jerusalem), 
into the area of indigenous Baltic Prussian tribes and uninhabited 
wilderness later to be known as East Prussia. 

The upshot of this complex ethnic interaction for understanding 
the realism of a “Polish Corridor” that divided the German Republic 
of 1918 into two uneven parts was the following: By 1919, the Baltic 
Prussian tribes had been either exterminated by the crusading Teu- 
tonic Knights or assimilated by German settlers, resulting in East 
Prussia, Danzig, and its expansive hinterland being over 95 percent 
German. The corridor between German Danzig and German Pom- 
merania remained an area of mixed settlement balanced roughly 
equally between German and Pole. 14 The Danzig situation proved 
particularly dysfunctional because the Allies had to balance between 
the right of self-determination of the overwhelmingly German pop- 
ulation to remain German, and the economic necessities of Poland 
to have functional access to the sea through established facilities in 
the port of Danzig. To solve this situation, the Allies converted 
Danzig and its hinterland into an international zone, thus assuring 
Polish access to the sea through the port. The Allies thereby solved 
the immediate challenges of 1919 while characteristically victim- 
izing Germany and creating another ostensible cause for the out- 
break of World War II twenty years later. 

It can be generalized somewhat obviously that Hitler would be 
fortified, in the development of a robust national movement in 
domestic German politics, by such a situation. Less obviously, it 
could be added that in the event that he actually came to power in 



Germany, he would initially have an almost inescapable path for for- 
eign policy laid out for him in the misplaced Germans in Austria, the 
Sudetenland, and Danzig. The point for a more realistic picture of 
Hitler in 1919 and reevaluation of his foreign policy later in the 
1930s is that neither Hitler nor the Germans invented a rump Aus- 
tria, nationalistically abused Sudetenland, and an internationalized 
Danzig. With full freedom of maneuver to create a stable Europe in 
1919, the Allies chose to create national moral inequities that would 
not only assist Hitler in his rise to power but also define the high- 
points of his foreign policy once he was in control of Germany. 

* *• * 

In the case of the overseas colonial settlement arrived at unilaterally 
by the Allies, they took every German colony on the face of the 
globe for redistribution among themselves. If the Allies had simply 
announced and carried out such action, the Germans would have 
been left with the unhappy but sobering fact of defeat in a great war 
and associated losses. The Allies, however, through some terrible 
combination of belief in their own wartime propaganda and yet bad 
conscience about the credibility of so severe an action, felt com- 
pelled to accuse the Germans of corruption and brutality. Such a 
quasi-gratuitous accusation impugned the honor of the German 
people and would have been dangerously impolitic to make even if 
it were supportable by evidence. German colonial administration, 
however, could be characterized as firm but probably fairer and more 
efficient than that of any other power. By the mid-1930s, however, it 
had become plain that a grave injustice had been done by depriving 
Germany of its colonies, and the British became willing to admit 
even Hitler’s dangerously nationalist Germany into the elite group 
of colonial powers. 15 The British historian R. W. Seton- Watson drew 
up a tentative program of adjustments for the British government, 
noting that “the convenient thesis of Germany’s unfitness to admin- 
ister colonies is as untrue as it is insulting and should be recanted.” 16 



This British expert thereby advised the British government as part of 
a policy of readjustment to repudiate formally and publicly the 
former opinion expressed on German colonies. 

Seton- Watson’s comments are particularly cogent because in the 
half-century in Africa prior to 1914, the Belgians, French, and British 
had made the greatest colonial inroads, and not surprisingly have been 
associated with the cruel exploitation of the natives of Congo State by 
the Belgians, the extraordinarily aggressive occupation of Algeria, 
Morocco, and Tunisia by the French, and reprehensible British wars 
against the South African Dutch republics. The latter imperialistically 
contrived aggression was linked with the strategic concept of a Cape- 
to-Cairo rail system and resultant probable British dominance in 
Africa. The concept culminated during the last Boer War in the infa- 
mous “concentration” of noncombatant Afrikaner women and chil- 
dren in temporary camps and the resulting deaths of approximately 
thirty thousand through incompetence and neglect. 

In the military, naval, and air clauses of the treaty, the Allies 
would proceed with extraordinary convolutions — even for Ver- 
sailles. With France leading, they determined to essentially disarm 
Germany. The situation was an enormity because it would place that 
country in immediate danger of foreign invasion from the east and 
west by tough competing national states including, of course, 
France, Poland, and even Czechoslovakia. The French menace was 
evident in a French peacetime army of approximately 800,000 pro- 
fessionals and conscripts in the 1920s, an associated buildup of a 
huge body of trained reserves, and an unrestricted weapons devel- 
opment. The Polish frontier was a strategic disaster area in terms of 
the great plain existing between the two states and a special danger 
because of the proximity of Berlin to the frontier. It is difficult to 
imagine Czechoslovakia attacking Germany, but the practical possi- 
bility in terms of a Czech peacetime army larger than the ground 
force of a “disarmed” Germany illustrates the extreme situation. 

A question, though, is: What constituted a “disarmed” Germany, 
and how does it relate to the above situation? Germany was actually 



permitted an army of one hundred thousand officers, civilian officials, 
and men, with tight restrictions on weaponry including no armored 
vehicles, no artillery heavier than 105mm pieces, and no “heavy” 
machine guns. The treaty forbade any military aircraft; hence, there 
could be neither army air corps nor German air force. The navy was 
contemptuously small by the standards of Britain, France, and Italy and 
forbidden to have submarines. Germany, in fact, was not disarmed but 
nearly so. As such, it lay obviously helpless in the event of all-out attack 
or opportunistic border readjustment by any one of the powers noted. 

The situation was an extreme one, notwithstanding writings that 
suggest that the Germans evaded treaty controls. The writings in 
general claim that the Germans clandestinely designed, produced, 
and tested various weapons including submarines, tanks, and aircraft 
in various locations. The writings note that they hid large stocks of 
weapons that could be used for the large numbers of young men 
associated with the Freikorps from late 1918 through 1923 and with 
similarly styled groups later in the 1920s. The Germans, of course, 
attempted to evade the controls, but they proved tight enough to pre- 
vent the production of significant numbers of any important 
weapons. The best the Germans could do until 1933 was to design 
various weapons for possible production upon the lifting of the quite 
effective Allied controls that year. The Allied disarmament of Ger- 
many had proven to be so effective, in fact, that we could postulate 
that the single most important technically oriented factor responsible 
for the German loss of World War II was the feeble rearmament in 
the short period from 1933 to war’s outbreak in September 1939. 

As concerns other effects of the disarmament clauses of the 
treaty on Germany, the struggling Weimar Republic would be 
forced to depend on the clandestinely armed Freikorps for protection 
against border incursions in the east and Communist uprisings 
within Germany. The army, dismantled, reassembled, reduced in 
numbers, and closely scrutinized by the Allies, was not up to the task. 
Hitler and the young National Socialist movement cannot be imag- 
ined as being successful without the atmosphere characterized by 



the Freikorps and associated with the ill-advised severity of the dis- 
armament clauses of the treaty. Hitler would be protected by the 
new Reichsheer organized as the Seventh Infantry Division in Bavaria 
and responsible for aiding the local nationalists and their associated 
Freikorps groups. Captain Ernst Roehm on the division staff was 
responsible for secretly caching large quantities of small arms and 
ammunition for use by the Freikorps as a clandestine Bavarian light 
infantry reserve against left wing uprisings. This same Captain 
Roehm would play a crucial role in Hitler’s abortive Putsch in 
Munich in November 1923. He would personally lead armed SA 
men in the seizure of the war ministry and furnish rifles and 
machine guns for the approximately six hundred SA men who 
secured the Buergerbraeukeller and others armed during the uprising. 
Hitler could not have survived the violent activity he was engaged in 
from 1919 through 1923 without the support and protection of a 
Reichsheer too weak to secure Germany from enemies foreign and 
domestic under circumstances of the disarmament. 

Hitler would be aided in his expansion of the Nationalsozialis- 
tische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP or National Socialist 
German Workers’ Party) by the revulsion of most Germans against 
Article 227 of the treaty, in which the Allies and associated powers 
“publicly” arraigned William II of Hohenzollern for “a supreme 
offense against international morality and the sanctity of treaties.” 
Most people, German or otherwise, would consider their intelli- 
gence badly handled by the Allied statement that “a special tribunal 
will be constituted to try the accused, thereby assuring him the guar- 
antees essential to the right of defense. It will be composed of five 
judges, one appointed by each of the following Powers; namely, the 
United States of America, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan.” 17 
This single sentence illustrates an almost limitless disregard for fair- 
ness and justice on the part of the Allies and characterizes the times 
set by them in interwar Europe. 

In the same part of the treaty, the Allies would pen Article 231 
with no German negotiator present to temper the wording. The 



article impugned the honor of the entire German nation and set in 
place vindictiveness as the main characteristic of the times. The 
article was not only psychologically calloused — a kind of glove 
thrown into the face of every person in the defeated nation — but 
also historically implausible. The article stands as a monument to a 
coalition of Allies that had become devoured by its own wartime 
propaganda. The Allies more so than the Germans employed grossly 
distorted images of evil in portraying their foe in order to attract 
allies during the war and to keep their own people in the fight. It is 
easy to forget, for example, that the French Army suffered a 
strategic-level mutiny in late 1916, which illustrated the closeness of 
the struggle and demanded that the Allies employ exaggerated pro- 
paganda. Faced with similar crises, the Allied governments failed to 
separate themselves from their own accusations of evil on the part of 
the Germans and reenter the world of historical reality in setting in 
place the times for the next twenty years in Europe. Taken by itself, 
Article 231 represents an enormity that significantly explains the 
existence and effectiveness of the parallel enormity of Hitler’s stri- 
dent propaganda. The article follows, necessarily, in its entirety: 

The Allied and associated Powers affirm and Germany accepts the 
responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss 
and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and 
their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war 
imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies. 

Herbert Hoover, a prominent member of the American delega- 
tion, received his first copy of the draft treaty at four o’clock in the 
morning and was greatly disturbed by his first overall view. He later 
wrote that “hate and revenge” ran through the political and eco- 
nomic passages and that “conditions were set up upon which Europe 
could never be rebuilt or peace come to mankind.” 18 William C. Bul- 
litt, an officially designated expert advisor on the American com- 
mission, resigned on May 1 7, 1919, in protest against the draft treaty, 



writing “our government [US] has consented now to deliver the suf- 
fering peoples of the world to new oppressions, subjections and dis- 
memberments — a new century of war. . . . Unjust decisions of the 
conference in regard to . . . the Tyrol, Thrace, Hungary, East Prussia, 
Danzig the Saar Valley ... make new international conflicts cer- 
tain.” 19 Jan Christian Smuts, distinguished and influential British 
representative at the conference from the Union of South Africa, 
warned in a letter to President Wilson in mid-May 1919 that the 
treaty “may become an even greater disaster than the war was.” 20 
These men, in these few comments, scathingly indicted the Allies for 
establishing the conditions required for yet another conflict. And the 
comments were prophetic. War would come in 1939 still completely 
within the shadow cast by the treaty. 

The German government, through its delegation at Versailles, 
would present counterproposals to the Allies on May 29, 1919. The 
Germans pointed out the Allied flight from a peace of justice as 
espoused in the armistice agreement. The German “negotiators” 
objected especially to the lack of any realistic sense of proportion in 
reparation, the unsupportable allegations in the honor clauses, and 
the unfairness of the territorial rectifications, especially in the east. 
The plot becomes thicker here because Article 231 introduced the 
section on reparation in the Versailles treaty, and we are forced to 
ask the question: Just what does honor have to do with reparation? 
The answer is the disturbing one, that the Allies had determined to 
extract reparation so exorbitant that some equally exorbitant justifi- 
cation was necessary. Instead of simply pointing out pro forma that 
the Germans, as losers in a war, would join in a long tradition of 
paying the victors, the Allies would claim that Germany was like an 
international armed robber, responsible for war’s outbreak, and 
liable for excessive reparation. The latter description is necessary 
because the Allies would take away Germany’s iron ore in Lorraine, 
coal in the Saarland and Silesia, merchant and fishing fleets, and 
internationalize its Rhine, Elbe, and Oder Rivers, leaving an 
observer of the Paris Peace Conference to hold his breath in wonder 



at how a state with its own national debt of over three trillion marks 
of 19)4 value would manufacture such reparation. A member of the 
British delegation, Harold Nicolsen, characterized the reparation 
clauses as early as May 28, 1919, as the great crime in the treaty. He 
commented specifically that “the real crime is the reparation and 
indemnity chapter, which is immoral and senseless.” 21 He added that 
because the reparations were impossible to execute, they were 
“sheer lunacy.” 22 These are uncompromising words from a British 
delegate, and they bring into perspective the violent denunciations 
by Hitler and the support that began to gather around him — 
surprisingly slowly, given German desperation and revulsion. 

The Allies would reject the German counterproposals and on 
June 16, 1919, present a reply that rises above even the various arti- 
cles of the treaty to combine historically unsupportable allegations 
of hate and revenge that comfortably counterbalances any hate 
assigned to Hitler and the National Socialists by the great biogra- 
phers in the political campaigns of the 1920s and 1930s in Germany. 
The spirit of the times resides in the words of the covering letter of 
the Allied reply and makes it the most important document of the 
Paris Peace Conference and probably the entire period of the 
“twenty years’ crisis”: 

In view of the Allied and Associated Powers the war which began 
on August 1, 1914, was the greatest crime against humanity and 
the freedom of the peoples that any nation calling itself civilized, 
has ever consciously committed. For many years the rulers of 
Germany, true to the Prussian tradition strove for a position of 
dominance in Europe. They required that they should be able to 
dictate and tyrannize to a subservient Europe, as they had dictated 
to and tyrannized over a subservient Germany. 

As soon as their preparations were complete, they encouraged 

a subservient ally to declare war on Serbia In order to make 

doubly sore, they refused every attempt a conciliation and confer- 
ence until it was too late and the world war was inevitable for which 
alone among the nations they were fully equipped and prepared. 



Germany’s responsibility, however, is not confined to having 
planned and started the war. She is no less responsible for the 
savage and inhumane way in which it was conducted. 23 

The words above are those of the responsible governments of 
the United States, Britain, and France that were used to justify the 
refusal of any substantial changes in the treaty. They are not those of 
an irresponsible editorial in a Paris newspaper. The words reveal an 
intensity of hatred for the imperial government and the German 
people that demands comment. The words support a view that the 
Allied governments had lost touch with historical reality and were 
determined to demonize Germany. A terrible slide had begun by late 
November 1918 into a one-sided treaty and the unparalleled vitu- 
peration of the covering letter. The treaty and the following peace 
stemmed significantly from the traditionally practical British gov- 
ernment becoming overwhelmed by its exaggerated propaganda and 
the naive susceptibility of the US government to the same intense 
propaganda. The government and people of France, however, must 
take center stage for the spirit and word of the treaty, the ultimatum, 
and the peace set in place. The qualities that could be used to char- 
acterize the spirit of the French position are “arrogance” and “vin- 
dictive passion.” 

Unlike the treaty that placed blame for a war of aggression on 
“Germany and her allies,” the covering letter and ultimatum of June 
16, 1919, placed blame for the planning, starting, and readiness for a 
war of aggression on the shoulders of Germany alone. The Allies 
asserted in the treaty and covering letter to the ultimatum that the 
draft treaty was a just one that would enable the peoples of Europe 
to live together in friendship and equality. The articles of the treaty, 
the violent denunciations of Germany in the covering letter, and 
similar words in the ultimatum establish that no just peace could 

Within the treaty itself, Allied interpreters would claim that 
Article 231 merely reaffirmed the obligation assumed by Germany 



when it signed the armistice on November 1 1 to make compensation 
for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allies and their 
properties. Such a claim is incredible in the face of the denuncia- 
tions of Germany quoted above from the Allied ultimatum. The 
Allies had developed a fanatical belief in the total righteousness of 
their own cause and had determined, therefore, that the Germans 
would pay both war damages and costs and punctuated that deter- 
mination by placing responsibility for the outbreak of war on Ger- 

# * * 

In Article 232, the Allies defined the categories of loss and damage 
under which they held the Germans liable. These categories 
included pensions to Allied military men and separation allowances 
to civilians, a fact that was contrary to the definition laid down in the 
Lansing armistice negotiation note of November 5, 191 8. 24 The 
Allied demand for German payment of military pensions to Allied 
military personnel is a detail that illustrates the unfairness of the 
demanded reparation. Because the levying of pensions on the Ger- 
mans was in defiance of the Allied armistice note, the action on pen- 
sions aggravated the situation by making it both immoral and illegal. 
Never in history had such a terrible indictment been passed on a 
European nation as a whole. 25 Since the indictment originated in the 
reparation part of the treaty, just what were the dimensions of 
I’addition to the Germans? After all, the purpose of examining the 
Allied-imposed times is to comprehend the success of Hitler’s 
excessive propagandizing by relating it with the propagandized 
excesses of the times embodied in the Versailles treaty. We can gen- 
eralize, for example, that few if any of Hitler’s speeches, beginning 
in 1919, criticized German republicans and the Versailles treaty rise 
above the level of self-assured hate in the Allied documents. In a 
word, Hitler’s hateful propagandizing is comfortably equaled by the 
hateful propagandizing carried on by Georges Clemenceau and the 



French delegation officially at Versailles, echoed in the French press, 
and continued in 1919-1923. 

Unable to agree upon a total sum, the Allies forced the German 
government to sign a treaty that would include an indemnity for a 
sum as yet unknown and to be determined by an Allied commission no 
later than May 1, 1921, almost two years later. The Allies presented 
the bill for reparation at that time and filled in the previously blank 
check with thirty-two billion dollars of relatively uninflated 1921 
value. The formal German obligation was reckoned in gold marks, 
but payments were made largely in kind; for example, in telephone 
poles, coal, livestock, and so on. 

The Weimar government would struggle to make payments, and 
as early as November 1922 the French cabinet would complete plans 
for a military occupation of the Ruhr to go into effect as soon as the 
Weimar republican government provided the necessary pretext by 
defaulting on reparation payments. 26 The prime minister of France, 
Raymond Poincare, strong-willed and filled with vindictiveness 
toward the Germans, ordered French troops to seize the Ruhr area 
in Germany on January 11, 1923, after a German failure to deliver 
on time a relatively modest payment. The great biographers present 
Hitler’s various political hatreds but fail to compare his with other 
contemporary political hatreds, and Hitler stomps alone through a 
world of more gentle figures. None point out that Prime Minister 
Poincare, the man who succeed in destroying the German economy 
in 1923 and came close to destroying the Weimar government, was 
“an unreconstructed French patriot and a man whose hatred of Ger- 
many was so great that he asked to be buried [standing] facing 
toward the enemy in the east.” 27 To comprehend Hitler, we must 
place him within the times set by Frenchmen of corresponding 
hatred, will, and determination, especially Georges Clemenceau and 
Raymond Poincare. In the great biographies, the Frenchmen noted 
above vanish and we are left with the faceless enormity of a French 
and Belgian armed invasion of the Ruhr. The British government 
refused to take part in the action and, in a diplomatic note of August 



3 1, 1923, declared that the “Franco-Belgian action . . . was not a sanc- 
tion authorized by the treaty.” 28 

The armed incursion executed by Poincare can be measured by 
the fact that the struggling Weimar republican government turned 
over its executive powers on September 26, 1923, to the minister of 
defense, Dr. Otto Gessler, whose final power lay with General Hans 
von Seeckt and the army. The president, chancellor, and cabinet 
were forced to do this because of accumulating danger from France, 
Belgium, Poland, and Lithuania externally, the Communists in 
Saxony, Thuringia, and Hamburg, the extreme nationalists and 
monarchists in Bavaria, and an impending breakaway, French- 
supported Rhineland Republic. To survive the mass hysterical 
German reaction to the invasion, the Weimar republican govern- 
ment was forced to resist. Unable to engage in any “active resis- 
tance,” the government carried out various acts of “passive resis- 
tance,” which included ordering all members of the government 
neither to cooperate with the occupiers nor to deliver any reparation 
in kind. To support this style of resistance, the government promised 
to pay the idle industrial workers, miners, and city service workers. 
Forced into uniquely desperate measures, the government could 
only print additional paper currency to pay the deliberately unem- 
ployed, an act that led to an inflation so great that it obliterated 
German finances. The runaway word, obliterated . , is supported by the 
fact that the German republican government, when forced to 
abandon passive resistance in late November 1923, brought out a 
new transitional currency called the Rentenmark. Germans agreed to 
turn in the previous inflated Marks at the rate of one trillion old 
marks for one new Rentenmark. The German national debut lay at a 
figure of approximately 3.2 trillion old marks, and in an ironic, unin- 
tended twist, Poincare’s Ruhr occupation resulted in the Weimar 
republican government paying off the gigantic postwar debt of Ger- 
many with three Rentenmarks. 

The Allies were determined, also at the expense of Germany, to 
secure international control over rivers that flowed through more 



than one country. They set up international commissions to control 
the Rhine, Elbe, Oder, Niemen, and Danube Rivers. The Danube 
and Niemen Rivers stand as monuments to the obvious in terms of 
the reasonableness and functionality of international controls. The 
Danube, for example, originates in Germany and then flows through 
or was shared in postwar Europe by Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hun- 
gary, Yugoslavia, Rumania, and Bulgaria. The Rhine, Elbe, and Oder 
Rivers must be regarded from the viewpoint of half a millennium of 
historical and political usage as German rivers, and the setting up of 
an international commission to control them simply violated the ter- 
ritorial integrity of even the reduced post- Versailles Germany. In a 
reasonable analogy, it could be noted that a great European river, the 
Rhone, rises in Switzerland and flows through France, but no 
attempt was made at internationalization even though the Allies 
expressed a desire to provide freer access to the sea for countries like 
Czechoslovakia and Switzerland. 

In addition to the demilitarization of the Rhineland, the Allies 
provided for a military occupation with the purpose of guaranteeing 
the payment of reparation and carrying out other treaty terms. With 
the consistent excess that typified the treaty, the Allies determined 
that the Rhineland and three great bridgeheads across the Rhine 
River at Cologne, Koblenz, and Mainz were to be occupied by Allied 
armed forces for fifteen years from the coming into effect of the 
treaty on January 10, 1920. It is difficult to believe that the Allies 
would not correlate the outlandishly long presence of foreign 
ground troops in Germany with encouragement of the rise of a 
revanchist German government. It is true, of course, that the Allies 
occupied only the Rhineland and three bridgeheads, and the treaty 
provided for the evacuation of the bridgehead and zone of Cologne 
in five years, Koblenz in ten years, and Mainz in fifteen years. But the 
Mainz zone was slightly larger than the Cologne and Koblenz zones 
combined and approached the city of Frankfurt-am-Main. The 
Allies, therefore, considered it to be realistic and fair to occupy more 
than half the Rhineland and a bridgehead near Frankfurt until 1935. 



Hitler would be favored in the creation of a radical nationalist 
movement in Bavaria by the eleven-year presence of French troops 
occupying German territory close by, which included all of Rhenish 
Bavaria. French troops, however, would evacuate the final Mainz 
zone of occupation by June 1930, five years ahead of the 1935 
schedule. The reason for this uncharacteristic leniency was that the 
French and German governments — especially German foreign min- 
ister Gustav Stresemann on the one hand and French foreign 
minister Aristide Briand and Prime Minister Poincare on the other 
hand — agreed in the latter half of 1928 to link early evacuation of 
the Rhineland with a final settlement of reparation. The Germans 
and former Allies, including the United States, then arranged a final 
settlement at the Hague, which was embodied in the Young Plan of 
June 1929. The plan included realistic payments by Germany. But 
less realistically, from a psychological viewpoint, the Allies secured 
the unconditional annual payments by a mortgage on the German 
state railway system; that is, the Allies would own the German rail 
system. And, in a final tour de force of lack of reality, the Young Plan 
established that the Germans would pay reparation for fifty-nine 
additional years — more than half a century. The Germans, there- 
fore, agreed to submit to reparation until the year 1988 for a war that 
had ended in 1918, seventy years earlier. 

In 1929, the Young Plan, as it developed from the appointment 
of the Young Committee onjanuary 19, dominated European inter- 
national affairs and became the most important foreign issue inside 
Germany Hitler, for example, was forced to take a position on the 
plan. He chose to resist acceptance, and the action he took was his 
most important of the entire year of 1929 and would lead directly 
into the successes of 1930-1933, culminating in the capture of the 
German government. The Young Plan presented Hitler with an irre- 
sistible opportunity to gain national prominence after half a decade 
of intense activity that left him nevertheless languishing in Bavaria. 
And the opportunity was based on the Versailles treaty and Strese- 
mann’s earlier suggestion in the latter half of 1928 that the French 



evacuate the Rhineland ahead of the Versailles treaty schedule in 
return for reparation guaranties. 

A question is fundamental for comprehending Hitler: Which one 
of the forces of 1929, Hitler or the French, was most significant in 
beginning to focus the effects of the loss of World War I into the 
obliteration of the Weimar Republic? The French government in the 
early 1920s, of course, could not have anticipated the Hitler of 
August 1929, January 1933, and September 1939, but it could and 
should have taken into consideration the rise of an extreme nation- 
alist movement in Germany capable of endangering France. Domi- 
nated by hubris, the French government ignored such consideration. 
The answer to the question can be summarized thus: The actions of 
the French government in inflicting a vindictive peace on Europe 
led, through the secondary mechanism of Hitler and his boundlessly 
energetic National Socialists, to the destruction of the German 
republic. The thesis from this analysis is not the insipid generaliza- 
tion that the Versailles treaty — a distant, non-human abstraction — 
contributed to the fall of the German republic, but that France and 
its two great sons, Clemenceau and Poincare, comprised the indis- 
pensable mechanism that enabled Hitler, with his extraordinary tal- 
ents, to destroy it. Perhaps French governments euphoric over vic- 
tory in World War I had come to regard themselves as foreign policy 
supermen and decided to live dangerously and build their diplo- 
matic cities at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. 

Chapter 3 


H itler was a study in improbabilities. It was improbable 
that he would escape near social and economic extinc- 
tion similar to that in the men’s home in Vienna from 1910 
through 1913. It was improbable that he would survive death on 
the western front during the following four years. It was improb- 
able that he would seize any position of power with the German 
Workers’ Party after his entry into it in 1919. It was improbable 
that he would survive death at the point of the shattered column 
of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP 
or National Socialist German Workers’ Party) on Residenzstrasse 
in Munich in November 1923. It was improbable that he would 
avoid political extinction after defeat, trial, conviction, and fortress 
detention in the aftermath. It was improbable that he would seize 
unconditional leadership of the party remnants in early 1925 and 
dictate a legal political takeover of Germany. It was improbable that 
his improbable strategy would ever succeed, let alone by January 
1933. It was unlikely that his biographers would record and inter- 
pret this saga as other than bound by the details of Hitler’s actions 
in Munich, Bavaria, and Germany. Their approach to the above 
improbabilities has been so Germano-ccntric that it has involved a 
significant flight from reality in comprehending Hitler. But how can 
almost exclusive emphasis on Hitler doing German things in Ger- 
many veer away from reality? Such emphasis wotdd be a drawback 
if Germany could be shown to have had virtually no control over 




its own destiny because of the imposition of some outside force. 
Such force was in place in 1919. 

The Allies, through the grand historical instrument of military 
victory in World War I, and the more immediate instrument of 
French power in the aftermath of the war and the simultaneous 
onset of World War II, would control the destiny of a disarmed Ger- 
many at least until 1933. Germany cannot be said to have had an 
independent foreign policy during the entire period, and its internal 
politics and economics moved according to the external strictures of 
the loss of the war and relentless French imposition of them. The 
biographers dutifully present the presence of Allied pressures, but 
only as background. Despite the elegant succinctness of some of the 
descriptions, they leave us with a Hitler and a Germany disem- 
bodied from the rest of Europe. With Hitler, for example, interpre- 
tive cause and effect disappear because we are presented with a pic- 
ture of the times that drove his Putsch, which constitutes a canvas 
less than half filled-in. We see Hitler, Germans, and Germany, but 
little of the French, France, and the French army that had helped to 
set into place and then enforce the conditions that made it possible 
for Hitler to attempt a march on Berlin. 

In Hitler’s most significant action of the entire period, the 
Putsch of November 1923, the biographers minimize its cause: the 
earlier, Poincare-led, French armed invasion of the Ruhr. Poincare 
and France recede so far into the background that we are unable to 
formulate the necessary historical interpretation in which a heavy- 
handed French action was the underlying cause of the Hitler Putsch 
and one of the most important events that contributed to the influ- 
ence of the national Right. And because the biographers are so con- 
cerned with the colorful, albeit necessary, details of the beer cellar 
violence and German setting, we not only miss the overall French 
control of events but also fail to see Hitler in the actual context of 
the interwar period. We miss the point that the Ruhr invasion was the 
earliest great action in the onset of World War II and was French- 

OUT AT III DESERT, 1918-1922 


Biographers and historians alike have placed the entire weight of 
the onset and outbreak of World War 11 onto Hitler’s shoulders. As 
reassuring and satisfying as this situation has seemed to be for the 
last half century, it represents more the appearance of writers from 
the victorious coalition states ineffectively interpreting the outbreak 
of World War II and placing a cloak of selective invisibility over the 
actions and motives of other men and the policies of other states 
during 1919-1939. If we accept a thesis that the entire period was a 
single European crisis leading to World War IT, then the onset of war 
must include the period so coherently periodized and vita! in 
Hitler’s life as that from 1919 through 1933. 1 As concerns Hitler in 
such an analysis, it must be obvious that he had no influence over the 
onset of war in the entire 1919-1933 period — the lion’s share of the 
era. And it must be equally apparent that other men who directed 
the policies of other European states dominated the outbreak of 
peace in 1919 and the immediately following period that must be 
characterized as the onset of yet another war. 

Any story of Hitler becomes, in final analysis, a story of the 
onset, outbreak, and course of World War II. Any credible inter- 
pretation of Hitler must address the question of how his personal 
characteristics, thoughts, and actions can be related with the gener- 
alization that it was Hitler’s war; he wanted it, planned it, and started 
it. After all, World War II was the premier event of the twentieth 
century, and he has been interpreted as contributing more to its out- 
break than any other man, indeed, as stated above, virtually the one 
and only man. If Hitler’s greatest “contribution” to mankind was its 
greatest war, then his contribution should be addressed from the 
beginning of his political activity and dominate any biography from 
1919 through 1933. Yet it cannot be claimed that any biography has 
adequately integrated the onset and outbreak of World War II into 
the ample part of most biographies that deal with Hitler’s rise from 
political obscurity to the chancellorship of Germany — the Cin- 
derella story of the twentieth century. 



* * 


The story has the oddest of beginnings. On November 19, 1918, 
Hitler would depart Pasewalk for his regiment’s garrison city of 
Munich, remain in the army, and have his home in a military bar- 
racks. He would thereby be in the midst of the deadly, chaotic events 
of November 1918 through May 1919 in that city. During that time 
the Bavarian monarchy, which had been associated with the princely 
house of Wittlesbach for almost 750 years, would fall and be suc- 
ceeded by a republican government on November 8, one day before 
Social Democrats declared a German republic in Berlin. In a radical 
and bizarre course of events, the Independent Socialist Kurt Eisner, 
on that day and with the support of a Munich mob, took charge of 
events, declared a Bavarian republic, and was proclaimed minister- 
president by the Munich council of workers and soldiers. Hitler, the 
doubtless German nationalist, antisocialist, and anti-Semite; the vet- 
eran of four years of privation, fear, and the presence of violent 
death in the defense of the Second Reich; the participant as a front- 
line combat soldier in both the first and the last great offensive of the 
Imperial German Army on the western front; the young man who 
had fled cosmopolitan Vienna for German Munich; would return to 
that city to find it under the control of Marxists. Not one biographer 
points out that, in a single human being, the minister-president 
exemplified the enemy for Hitler: Kurt Eisner, revolutionary 
Marxist, Jew, internationalist, and fomenter of antiwar strikes in 
Germany in January 1918 while the field armies were still engaged 
in combat in the west. Hitler would have been presented by this 
apparition from hell of the destructor of a German Reich. Yet no 
biographer develops the Munich visions of Hitler that must have 
contributed to his conversion from intense, ineffectual, brooding 
loner into a German political phenomenon. 

Hitler would relate in his autobiography that earlier, face in 
pillow, head burning in a Pasewalk hospital not far from the Baltic on 
November 10, 1918, he would collapse in the face of the news that 

01)1 OF HE DESERT, 1910-1022 


the war had been lost as signaled by the abdication of the emperor 
and the declaration of a republic. “There followed terrible days and 
even worse nights,” according to Hitler, and for his part he decided to 
go into politics. 2 This appropriately dramatic account of his decision 
has been accepted by most biographers as part of a natural progres- 
sion of events that began with the nationalism and anti-Semitism in 
Vienna and proceeded inexorably toward entry into the German 
Workers’ Party in September 1919. Kershaw, however, in an original 
analysis, points out that Hitler’s Vienna anti-Semitism has probably 
been exaggerated by Hitler himself and other biographers and histo- 
rians. The great mystery in Hitler’s life (the almost inexplicable lack 
of action by Hitler in Munich in the midst of the tumult of 
November 1918 through May 1919) stares at us unexplained, partic- 
ularly in the light of “the relatively large numbers of Jews among the 
leaders of the soviet republics [that] gave, not justification, but a 
rationalized basis for otherwise latent anti-Semitic feelings.” 3 

In the period of November 1918 through February 1919, both 
Eisner and Hitler would be engulfed by further revolutions. With 
little support from voter and Landtag Minister-President Eisner 
attempted to resign on February 21, 1919, but was assassinated 
moments before he could submit his resignation. After his death by 
pistol shot, political control over Bavaria would continue to be dis- 
puted among Left political groups. On April 13, 1919, Hitler would 
have found himself in the midst of three Left, socialist revolutionary 
situations comprising a Majority and Independent Socialist govern- 
ment removed from Munich to Bamberg for its own safety, and in 
Munich a soviet republic under Ernst Toller that had just been 
deposed on April 12 by a Bolshevik threesome who declared a real 
soviet republic to be developed on the Russian model. The situation 
suggests an enormous impact on Hitler that would have been aggra- 
vated by the loss of the war. 

Unfortunately, because of its relevance to Hitler, no biographer has 
presented the statistically improbable historical situation relative to the 
anti-Semitism that followed. None pulls together the support possible 



for nationalist anti-Semites by the picture of the leadership of the rev- 
olutionary Marxists (Communists) in Germany in 1918 and 1919. Karl 
Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, the latter Jewish, led the Commu- 
nists in the most notorious and potentially successful uprising of the 
entire interwar period. Kurt Eisner had seized power on November 8, 

1918, in Munich and triggered the proclamation of a German-wide 
republic in Berlin. He would remain minister-president until February 

1919. Ernst Toller, Erich Muelhsam, and Gustav Landauer, all Jewish 
intellectuals, would instigate and lead the first soviet republic in 
Bavaria after Eisner’s assassination. And Eugen Levine, Towia Axelrod, 
and Max Levien, all Russian Jews, would instigate and lead the second 
soviet republic in Bavaria by taking over and radicalizing the previous 
one. Given Hitler’s coalescing anti-Semitism, we must suspect signifi- 
cant outrage on his part in the presence of six Jews holding the seven 
top positions in the three Marxist socialist revolutions in Bavaria, the 
first of which having been sparked while the Hitler and the army were 
still in combat on the western front. 

Yet the best the biographers can do in this situation is to present 
disparagingly the question of why Hitler did not take some kind of 
action against both the Majority Socialists and Communists. The biog- 
raphers emphasize particularly that during the period of the Bol- 
shevik-led takeover of Munich from April 12 to the entry of the 
Freikorps into the city on May 1, that Hitler did nothing to resist the 
Communists even though he was within the city in an army barracks. 
They also note that during the entire earlier period, from November 
1918 through the Communist intellectuals’ takeover of Munich 
through early April, that Hitler similarly took no action to resist the 
Majority Socialists who would later exemplify for him the November 
Criminals who had undermined the war effort through strikes and 
antiwar propaganda during the last two years of the war. The biogra- 
phers present, as their most damning evidence of their mini- 
interpretation of Hitler as a shallow opportunist, his elections to 
positions associated with the Bolshevik-inspired soldiers’ councils of 
war’s end. Hitler, for example, on April 16, 1919, within the violent 

ill OF THE DESERT, 1918-1922 


situation of the “real” soviet republic and Communist-controlled 
Munich, would be elected to his battalion’s soldiers’ council as the 
second-most popular man from his company. This fact suggests that 
Hitler may have opportunistically embraced Marxian socialism but 
is more credibly explained by the high regard for Hitler on the part 
of his comrades and their knowledge that he was a patriot forced to 
conform to events. 

Such generalization is supported by the scene described sparely 
by Hitler in Mein Kampfvfhen, on April 27, he stood at the entrance 
to his barracks with a loaded carbine and stared down the three Red 
guards sent to arrest him. Hitler would have been in uniform, dis- 
playing his Iron Cross First Class, Iron Cross Second Class, and 
wound badge, evidence of a formidable combat soldier and a mortal 
danger to the three would-be arresting agents. The presence of the 
three Red guards also suggests that Hitler may well have done some- 
thing that gave him away as a potential counterrevolutionary. How- 
ever, Professor Ian Kershaw, the latest great Hitler biographer, pre- 
sents the following self-conhdent, gratuitous denunciation of 
Hitler’s brief description by noting that “the whole story has an air 
of fabrication about it.” 4 The biographer generalizes that Hitler did 
nothing to resist the Bolshevik soviet republic in Munich and then 
continues sarcastically that Hitler alleged he had acted in some way 
that led to his attempted arrest by the Reds “but does not describe 
it.” Who do we believe as concerns this dramatic incident? 

It is difficult to accept a view that Hitler fabricated the incident. 
It is equally difficult to refute the biographer’s point that Hitler “did 
nothing” during the height of the entire Marxist revolutionary 
crisis. 5 The biographer, how'ever, cannot resist sarcastic disparage- 
ment: “Hitler claimed that he pondered what could be done but 
repeatedly realized that ... he ‘did not possess the least basis for any 
useful action.’ In other words he did nothing.” 6 The biographer’s 
desire to disparage again gets in the way of comprehension of Hitler, 
Although a reason not to accept Hitler’s story would be that it was 
an attempt to claim something that did not happen and cloud it in 



spare and vague terms, the story must almost certainly be accepted 
as factual. We are trying to comprehend Hitler and are presented 
with an incident that gives us insight, specifically his extraordinary 
personal courage, his combat background, his reserved style of pre- 
senting himself, his impressive resistance to exaggeration in 
recounting factual happenings as exemplified by his letters on his 
war experiences, and his tendency in Mein Kampf to present truth 
with enough vagueness to suggest many things to many readers 
including a bit of the heroic as seen dimly through a glass. 

Kershaw, however, shrugs off the incident as prevarication. In 
doing so he cannot point out the similarity in style between Hitler’s 
secretiveness that extended to his grave about the acts for which he 
was factually awarded the Iron Cross First Class, his ubiquitously 
displayed, quasi-mystical object of veneration, his uniquely German 
talisman. In the highly likely first action, the elusively described “it” 
that incurred the wrath of some Munich Red authority, he implied 
vaguely something heroic about the situation. In the irrefutable 
second action, the winning of the Iron Cross First Class, he similarly 
clouded the action, although we cannot doubt that it happened. But 
for what purpose? We are made to suspect by his silence something 
particularly heroic that each man must imagine separately because 
he is not presented with a necessarily disappointing concrete shape. 
Once we discern this subtle piece of myth-creation, we can connect 
it with yet another “mystery” that has plagued biographers and was 
the Vienna building site experience of Hitler. 

He related this experience as a scene in Mein Kampf set in Vienna 
in 1909. He represented himself as reduced to employment as a 
common laborer for approximately two weeks on a building construc- 
tion site. Kershaw flatly rejects the experience as “almost certainly fic- 
tional.” 7 An earlier great biographer, Joachim Fest, however, accepts 
the scene as real. 8 The incident rings true and probably actually hap- 
pened. Most importantly, however, Hitler used such a scene whether 
or not it actually occurred to educate his readers about Social Democ- 
racy. In it, he claimed that he “had looked for work only to avoid star- 

OUT If THE DESERT, 1010-1022 


vation, only to continue [his] education,” 9 and found himself in the 
midst of Social Democratic workers. He noted that he kept to himself 
but on the third or fourth day was informed that he had to join a Social 
Democratic trade union and become a Social Democrat. He coun- 
tered that he knew nothing about trade unions and would need time 
to educate himself on the matter. After two weeks of studying “book 
after book, pamphlet after pamphlet” and debating Social Democracy 
with the workers, he summarized that the union representatives tired 
of attempting to convince him by Marxist dialectic and threatened 
violence if he did not embrace Social Democracy. The lesson for 
Hitler: the demonstrable success of Marxism as a mass movement 
derived not from the boring and repellent Marxist dialectic but from 
the practical techniques of organized physical violence. Kershaw, in 
his preemptory rejection of Hitler’s story as a fabrication concocted to 
support his detestation of Social Democracy, fails to present Hitler’s 
plainly stated lesson: “our discussions at work were often very heated. 
1 argued back... until one day they made use of the weapon which 
most readily conquers reason: terror and violence. A few of the 
spokesmen of the other side forced me either to leave the building at 
once or be thrown off the scaffolding.” 10 

* * * 

By May, Hitler had survived the Munich Red soviet republic of the 
wandering Russian revolutionary Jews Levine, Axelrod, and Levien 
in the sense of not being killed by the Reds and not having com- 
mitted some unpardonable revolutionary act in the chaos of the 
time. Having survived both biological and political death, Hitler 
stood delicately poised in his inconsequential life before two paths. 
One path let to utter mediocrity barely at the fringes of bourgeois 
respectability, and the other to something else — fulfillment, perhaps, 
of the vague intuition of having been reserved for something special. 
This is the moment we can pull together what manner of man the 
world would be dealing with for the next quarter of a century. 



The cloud of disparagement that characterizes the writing of 
the great biographers by the time of his entry into “politics” in 1919 
continues to intrude. They take him to task in his memoir for his 
claim that he suffered through years of poverty and deprivation in 
Vienna during the initial stage of his political enlightenment. Hitler 
presented a picture of a young man struggling to maintain honor 
and dignity in the face of destructive privation in a cruel city. The 
biographers note to the contrary that during the period from early 
1908 through 1913 he lived comfortably on his patrimony until 
about August 1909. They continue that he hit briefly on evil times 
from spring 1910 through May 1913, followed by relatively com- 
fortable times in the men’s home on the Meldemannstrasse and 
cannot be said to have suffered the privations that he claimed. Who 
do we believe? 

Again it is Kershaw, in an inimitable, sardonic style, who notes 
that “Hitler was to describe his life in Vienna as one of hardship, 
misery, hunger, and poverty,” but that “this was notably economical 
with the truth as regards the months spent in Stumpergasse in 
1908.” 11 Kershaw, with his inevitable candidness, would add that 
Hitler’s description was “accurate enough” for the dark autumn and 
winter of 1909, but Kershaw does not tie together the whole Vienna 
experience by going on to characterize the final period 1910—1913. 
The biographer leaves us with a fractured picture of Hitler as a pre- 
varicator or at least as being economical with the truth, a truth teller, 
and then tires of further analysis. It is worthwhile to note that during 
the months Hitler spent allegedly living so well in the Stumpergasse 
that the following picture existed: As concerns the potential for 
misery, hardship, and hunger, Hitler shared a single room with two 
windows having views facing a sooty brick wall, without electricity 
or running water, lit by a kerosene lamp. The room was so crowded 
that his roommate, Kubizek, noted that the space between the grand 
piano and the beds was roughly one foot, as was the case for the 
spacing between the two beds and among the table, two chairs, wash 
stand, wardrobe, and chest of drawers. In a fascinating commentary 

BUT if THE DESERT, 1119-1022 


on Hitler, Kubizek noted that he could not exist without pacing 
space. Accordingly, they worked hard to provide three paces of 
movement for Hitler from the closed door to one side of the piano. 

Hitler’s room had no stove, hot plate, or even microwave, and the 
only warm food for him during this period of his life would he that 
provided by meal tickets for the canteen at the university where 
Kubizek was an extramural student. Hitler lived during these months 
largely on milk, bread, butter, and occasional “cakes,” all eaten in the 
room. We can only imagine where drinking water came from and the 
distance to and the floor on which the toilet was located. Hitler 
would remark in anger when occasionally the circumstances got the 
better of him: “Isn’t this a dog’s life?” 12 This exclamation was appro- 
priate because the bed clothes, mattresses, and furniture were also 
infested with lice. Yet, in their ubiquitous disparagement, the biog- 
raphers generalize that Hitler lived under comfortable circum- 
stances during the year 1908 in Vienna, which did not support his 
allegedly exaggerated claim to posterity of suffering. The conditions 
outlined above, however, qualify as a touch of hardship and hunger 
and a bit of misery sometimes associated with the life of a canine. 

In this modest detail illustrating the relationship between Hitler 
and his biographers, however, we come upon a personal detail that 
gives insight into his character. Kubizek presents casually the extra- 
ordinary behavior for an eighteen-year-old of absolutely requiring 
room to pace. A female neighbor living below the Hitlers three years 
earlier noted the same behavior for the fifteen-year-old, as did 
others. 13 Pacing is a phenomenon associated with mature people 
under pressure and used as a thought gathering process; it is well- 
known but relatively rare. For a young Hitler to have affected pacing 
supports a view of an extraordinarily thoughtful adolescent 
wrestling with self-imposed projects — the great architectural and 
musical projects described by Kubizek. 14 And no less a literary light 
than Thomas Mann, wrestling over the phenomenon of an older 
Hitler in the mid- 1930s, would remark “if genius is madness tem- 
pered with discretion, this ... plotter of revenge is a genius,” 15 



echoing the pacing, reserved, imaginative planner of fantasy archi- 
tectural projects in Vienna. 

* * 


The great biographers focus on the Vienna period as the one in 
which Hitler became an antisocialist and anti-Semite. They agonize 
over the derivation of his extraordinary nationalism and associate it 
with variously emphasized combinations of the usual suspects: in 
Vienna, Karl Lueger, Georg Ritter von Schoenerer, Georg Lanz von 
Liebenfels (Adolf Lanz), and accompanying Hitler from Linz, Pro- 
fessor Leonard Poetsch and Richard Wagner. Every biographer, 
however, throws up his or her arms in frustration over the depth of 
“hatred” that Hitler brought to bear against the Marxists and the 
Jews, and none has developed a believable interpretation of its 
unparalleled depth. The biographers address the same general ques- 
tions in the following form: What did Hitler depart with from 
Vienna in 1913 in addition to his single threadbare suitcase as he 
headed for political greatness? The biographers agree that the foun- 
dation for a radical German national movement accompanied him, 
although only the latest, Kershaw, most accurately portrays the role 
of blind chance after World War I in ushering Hitler into politics. 
Notwithstanding this latter, artfully presented insight, the world 
remains without an adequate explanation for Hitler’s violence, and 
the reason is probably that the wrong question has been asked. The 
question is not what Hitler left with from Vienna in 1913, but what 
he brought from Linz in 1908. 

Kershaw brings into focus the lack of comprehension of Hitler 
in a casually penned sentence to the effect that Kubizek’s recollec- 
tions, for all their flaws, paint a portrait of the young Hitler whose 
character traits are recognizable with hindsight in the later party 
leader and dictator. 16 The statement, innocent enough at first glance, 
is a masterpiece of understatement, ignores evidence of Hitler’s 
character traits and style of action, and contradicts the disparaging 

Oil OF HE DESERT, 1018-1922 


interpretation of him by all biographers. The comment, by 
suggesting — perhaps with an eye to scholarly moderation — that the 
young Hitler’s character traits were recognizable in the later party 
leader, understates the importance of the younger years so much 
that it misses understanding of the subject of the biography. 
Kubizek’s firsthand observations show that the late adolescent of 
1908 was already the Hitler of 1919-1939. What is important for 
comprehending Hitler is not the how and when but the awe- 
inspiring intensity of his anti-Semitism; the not-human intensity in 
Hitler’s character was in place before his arrival in Vienna. 

Hitler’s earnestness and private brooding followed by energetic 
action can be seen in projects described by Kubizek but ignored by 
biographers as curious trivia illustrating Hitler’s flights from reality 
The biographers handle the concept of a mobile Reichs orchestra 
and the planning for it in 1908, for example, as an object of derision 
or almost not at all. Kershaw' mentions such a project only once in 
his two thousand pages, referring to it as a “traveling orchestra” and 
dismisses it contemptuously under the heading of “other utopian 
schemes.” 17 But we see Hitler at age nineteen with artistic imagina- 
tion, unbounded sense of proportion, and deadly earnestness. The 
same Hitler with the same attributes at age thirty would levy them 
on projects equally utopian in the sense of practical impossibility. 
But the biographers do not qualify his actions from late 1919 
through 1941 as “utopian.” Is it possible that the young Hitler, who 
had become set in ways characterized as “adrift” and “divorced from 
reality” from 1905 through 1908 suddenly became a different 
person? In his 1925 memoir, Hitler claimed that he made the con- 
scious decision earlier in 1919 to enter a miniscule political party 
that had not yet ossified into an organization and to use it to save 
Germany. 18 If ever a man set himself a utopian task, it was Hitler 
assigning himself the mission to reconstitute a Reich. He intended 
to begin this utopian task as the seventh member of the executive 
committee of a political “party” with approximately fifty-five mem- 
bers in a country with a population of sixty-five million. 



It is important to know what nationalist baggage Hitler would 
carry with him as he edged into the German Workers’ Party over a 
period of several weeks in the autumn of 1919. The great biogra- 
phers accurately portray the Vienna period as the one during which 
Hitler received the world outlook for Nazism. Hitler himself wrote 
that “Vienna was and remained for me the hardest, though most 
thorough, school of my life,” and he characterized the period as 
dominated by study and struggle. 19 He also used the themes of study 
and struggle to characterize the entire period from 1904 through 
1914, and through his eyes the period could be seen as one of deadly 
earnest study. Hitler wrote about this retrospectively in 1924 and 
1925. He has been criticized accordingly by the biographers for 
embellishing, exaggerating, and giving the impression that he con- 
sciously maneuvered toward his entry into politics. 

Hitler cannot be said to have maneuvered through this period of 
his life toward so specific a goal and does not actually claim as much. 
When he made it clear, for example, that his world outlook was put 
together in Vienna, he did not claim that he had begun to look at that 
time for an opportunity to save the Germans. In speaking retrospec- 
tively in 1924, he seems to say, rather, that when the entire scene is 
put together from childhood through that year, the granite founda- 
tions of the movement turned out to have been laid in Vienna — the 
most thorough school of his life. This is more than surmise, however, 
because we can state unequivocally that the chance circumstance of 
the German loss of World War I sensitized Hitler to the possibilities 
of going into politics, and this chance event must be added to his 
political awakening in Vienna. We now arrive at a great mystery of 
Hitler’s odyssey into politics: the utterly chance circumstances of his 
first attendance, in September 1919, at a “meeting” ol the German 
Workers’ Party. After surviving behind enemy lines in the Munich 
Red uprisings of April and May, he was requested to comment on 
the presence of suspected Reds in his regiment, came to the atten- 
tion of an officer putting together a counterintelligence unit, proved 
effective as a troop anti-Red indoctrination speaker, and was directed 

OUT If TIE DESERT, 1910-1922 


by that officer, Captain Karl Mayr, to observe a recently revealed 
tiny political group called the German Workers’ Party. 

Hitler’s unparaphrased words present the reality of the experi- 
ence. “This absurd little organization with its few members seemed 
to me to possess the one advantage that it had not frozen into an 
‘organization,’ but left the individual an opportunity for real per- 
sonal activity. . . . Here it was still possible to work Here the con- 

tent, the goal, and the road could still be determined, which in the 
existing great parties was impossible from the outset .” 20 We see 
Hitler with an idea of such originality and finality that it could be 
announced by him alone and disseminated, not through any con- 
ventional political party, but only by a single genius and his disciples. 
Hitler would elaborate “that through just such a little movement the 
rise of the nation could some day be organized, but never through 
the political parliamentary parties ... for it was a new philosophy and 
not a new election slogan that had to be proclaimed .” 21 We sense that 
Hitler wrestled with the challenge of really doing something about 
Germany’s misfortune and that the challenge was not whether to 
join the German Workers’ Party but whether to commit himself to 
something from which there could be no return: “I knew that for me 
a decision would be for good, with no turning back .” 22 

In the face of these words, Kershaw, in a work that can be consid- 
ered to contain the distilled essence of the entire conventional 
wisdom on Hitler, maintains derisively that Hitler’s account “was 
devised, like everything else, to serve the Fuehrer legend that was 
already being cultivated .” 23 Kershaw elaborates that Hitler in the 
German Workers’ Party could become a full-time political agitator 
and notes the theme of Hitler existing only as propagandist: “He 
could do for a living the only thing he was good at doing: speaking .” 24 
Although we are dealing with a historical figure as important as Hitler, 
we are told that he was good, but one-sidedly so, at only one thing. We 
know that he successfully seized political power in Germany, and 
logic demands that Hitler achieved it on the basis of his talents as a 
speaker. We can generalize therefore, although somewhat lamely, that 



Hitler was a good speaker to mass audiences. The conventional 
wisdom allows us to make this generalization, but we are left with the 
uncomfortable feeling that we have just made the understatement of 
the century. The confident assertion that Hitler was devising a 
Fuehrer legend falters in the face of the impressions of a real Nazi 
like Rudolf Hess, who could comment to party critics as early as 
summer 1921: “Are you truly blind to the fact that this man is the 
leader personality who alone is able to carry through the struggle?” 25 
Hess was stating bald fact and scarcely “devising” a Fuehrer legend. 
Thousands and, ultimately, several millions by 1933 would see Hitler 
as the leader personality described spontaneously by Hess in 1921; 
and those Germans during the intervening period cannot be claimed 
to have been bedazzled by a devised Fuehrer legend. After 1934 and 
the Nazi consolidation of power, the propaganda ministry and thou- 
sands of Nazi functionaries at various levels would contribute to the 
picture conveyed by the word Fuehrer. The propaganda ministry in 
particular would shower glowing praise on Hitler after 1933, but it is 
difficult to believe that he took some of the more exaggerated plaudits 
seriously except to be embarrassed by them. 

As concerns the devising of a Fuehrer legend, Kershaw shows a 
furious will to denigrate Hitler; and his condemnations, reproaches, 
and abuses are legion for the 1920s: “He was above all a consummate 
actor.” 26 “The firm handshake and ‘manly’ eye to eye contact which 
Hitler cultivated on occasions when he had to meet ordinary party 
members . . . was merely acting; it meant no more than the reinforce- 
ment of the personality cult ... in reality Hitler showed remarkably 
little human interest in his followers.” 27 But above all, Kershaw pre- 
sents a hint of factually and therefore apparent objectivity: “The 
playacting and hypocrisy did not mean that he was solely a cynical 
manipulator, that he did not believe in the central tenets of his 
‘worldviews.’” 28 And the alternation between Hitler as empty hypo- 
critical urge to power and Hitler as brilliant true believer beats 
incessantly on the reader. 

Kershaw writes that, in the mid-1920s, “little or nothing had 

011 if III DESERT, 1910-1822 


changed. Hitler was at ease only when dominating the conversation. 
His monologues were a cover for his half-baked knowledge. There 
was no doubting that he had a quick mind and a biting and destruc- 
tive wit . , . and the combination of a domineering presence, resort to 
factual detail (often distorted), for which he had an exceptional 
memory, and utter conviction (brooking no alternative argument) 
based on ideological certitude was impressive ... but those with 
knowledge and critical distance could often quickly see behind his 
crude arguments.” 29 Kershaw personifies the conventional wisdom 
and seems to present an effective, reasonably balanced picture of 
Hitler as an intelligent ideologue, though badly educated, and a 
canny, shallow manipulator of those around him. Kershaw, however, 
is a master of depreciatory hints: Hitler’s firm handshake and manly 
eye-to-eye contact is not only denigrated as hypocrisy but also sug- 
gested as distasteful because he had to associate with ordinary party 
members. We see Hitler as a petty, unprincipled tyrant aspiring to be 
a greater one. 

Hitler’s own words and those of his followers are a better guide 
to what he and his followers thought he was and, perhaps, who he 
actually was. Joseph Paul Goebbels, Hitler’s educated, articulate 
convert of 1925 and bold, ultra-aggressive leader of the Nazi Berlin 
district beginning late in 1926, was effusive in praise. This extolling 
of Hitler is well-known, but no biographer has commented on the 
revealing metaphors: “Who is this man? Half plebian, half God! 
Actually Christ, or only John?” 30 And Goebbels would continue: 
“Such a sparkling mind can be my leader. I bow to the greater one, 
the political genius.” 31 He could also note: “Adolf Hitler, I love you 

because you are both great and simple What one calls a genius.” 32 

And in a peculiarly mixed metaphor, Goebbels would announce to 
all who might someday discover his diary: “This man has everything 
to be a king... the born tribune of the people.” 33 Others such as 
Dietrich Eckart, Rudolf Hess, Kurt Ludecke, Konrad Heiden, and 
Ernst Hanfstaengl would use similarly colored words in expressing 
their impressions of Hitler: messianic complex, savior, prophet, 



leader personality, enigma, Lohengrin, manitou — every one of 
which suggests that Hitler was not engaged in politics. 

Hitler was a study in the rejection of the conventional rules of the 
game in German domestic politics. Virtually every German politician 
of Hitler’s day viewed politics as ministerial positions, pluralities in 
the Reichstag and provincial legislatures, party programs, and in the 
case of a select few, a Germany restored to the international 
respectability suggested by the relaxation of the strictures of the Ver- 
sailles treaty. The Communist Party, the other significant revolu- 
tionary party in Germany besides the NSDAP, stood hobbled by its 
internationalist subservience to the Soviet Communist Party and 
doctrinally bound by stiff, orthodox revolutionary thinking. In con- 
trast, Hitler aimed to make new Germans an almost impossible chal- 
lenge in human psychology and remove both from conventional pol- 
itics and from what might be termed “conventional revolution.” But 
no biographer has taken Hitler’s brilliance in mass psychology, and 
the attracting of millions by 1933 into National Socialism, and linked 
it with his intent to convert each one of that mass of “supporters” into 
a new German. It was one thing to attract men to support of a polit- 
ical party and quite another to create new Germans. It is a monument 
to Hitler’s characteristic breathtaking sweep that he conceptualized 
not only seizing political power in Germany largely by means of the 
spoken word but then also welding together all Germans into a single 
community dedicated to its resurrection from death in 1918. 
Although this outlandishly optimistic goal on Hitler’s part can easily 
and naturally be described in terms of the seizure of political power, 
it can be understood only in terms of an apolitical savior. 

The following words by Hitler at the inception of the movement 
are laden with apolitical pathos: “The hardest thing in this first 
period, when often only six, seven, or eight heads met together . . . 
was to arouse and preserve in this tiny circle faith in the mighty 
future of the movement. Consider that six or seven men, all name- 
less poor devils had joined together to succeed — where the powerful 
great mass parties had failed — in restoring a German Reich of 

OUT flf THE DESERT, 1118-1122 


greater power and glory.” 34 Hitler graciously presented a picture of 
a handful of men totally divorced from political reality with what 
must be understood as an apolitical hope for the resurrection of 
German political influence. Hitler was gracious in his presentation 
because it cannot be claimed that any one of these “six or seven . . . 
all nameless poor devils,” with one notable exception, had a practical 
expectation of the resurrection of Germany. Hitler was the notable 
exception and as such, the one man in the Germanic world who 
believed that he could convert the broad masses through the spoken 
word to a “ German state of the German nation ,” 35 This was not politics: 
“Some idea of genius arises in the brain of a man who feels called 
upon to transmit his knowledge to the rest of humanity. He preaches 
his view and gradually wins a circle of adherents.” 36 In such a case, 
a human organization must be brought into existence to transmit 
such an idea; according to Hitler, unparaphrased, “the best organiza- 
tion is . . . that which inserts the smallest intermediary apparatus 
between the leadership of a movement and its individual adherents 
, . . the function of organization is the transmission of a definite 
idea — which always first arises from the brain of an individual — to a 
larger body of men and the supervision of its realization.” 37 

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Hitler saw Nazism as 
his idea of the salvation of the Germans and that the idea was unique 
in its comprehensiveness and finality. With a mixture of the mystical 
and the concrete, he would place himself in the opening scene of the 
grand political opera of the twentieth century: “The greatest revolu- 
tionary changes and achievements of this earth, its greatest cultural 
achievements, the immortal deeds in the field of statesmanship, etc., 
are forever inseparably bound up with a name and are represented by 
it.” 38 In this expression of the central role of the great personality in 
history, Hitler obliquely but ever-so-directly demanded the presence 
in National Socialism of the single indispensable name. With the 
clearly enunciated purpose to make new Germans and to save them, 
Hitler can be seen clearly through a historical viewing glass as the 
unique, complete messiah of modern times. 



This characterization that unlocks understanding of the man 
should not be so surprising, though, because both genetics and envi- 
ronment lead us to a modern savior disguised as the “leader person- 
ality” of Hess and the latter-day manufactured “Fuehrer legend” of 
Kershaw. In the adolescent Hitler, we have seen the overpowering 
intensity, seriousness, and earnestness. In the young man we have 
seen the ubiquitously observed correctness and politeness, and as 
described in an overgeneralization by a superior officer in World 
War I, a gravity not associated with Austrians. And in his thirties, 
Hitler revealed determination that was fearsome and unbending on 
a plane beyond the reality of others: “We must not ask if it is pos- 
sible to attain this goal, but whether it is necessary. If it is impossible, 
we will try it anyway and be destroyed. But if it is necessary and 
true, we must believe that it is possible just the same. And we need 
this faith. A thousand years look down on us, the future demands 
sacrifices.” 39 The words cannot be attributed to a man who was in the 
process of manufacturing a legend of the leader. To attempt to 
create a legend is to admit the absence of it. Legendary figures make 
themselves; they cannot and need not be created by others. Can we 
imagine that Alexander the Great required a body of ancient public 
relations men to create a legend around him? It must be acknowl- 
edged, on the other hand, that once Hitler was “in power,” the pro- 
paganda apparatus of the state would extol the leader. But he would 
stand or fall on the aura of his vision and the substance of his 

* *■ * 

The chance projection of Hitler into counterintelligence and propa- 
ganda speaking can be seen to have intervened in his life in the period 
May through September 1919, and as noted by Kershaw, more than 
“any dramatic decision to rescue Germany from the ‘November 
criminals,’ was ... to open up the path into the maelstrom of right- 
wing politics in Munich.” 40 It can scarcely be doubted, however, that 

OUT OF HE DESERT, 1110-1022 


once Hitler was in politics he would be driven above everything else 
by a sense of mission to save the Germans from the November Crim- 
inals and several additional historical entities. At this crucial moment 
for the world — the entry of Hitler into politics — the biographers 
become bound up in the immediate details of his entry into politics 
and the following time through the Putsch in 1923. 

Something continues to elude us, and that something becomes 
even more remote when the biographers characterize Hitler as a 
human exercise in power seeking. We are asked to believe that a 
drifting mediocrity consumed by lust for power entered politics in 
Munich in September 1919 and actually made a success of it! Yet the 
same biographers who characterize Hitler as noted above continue 
to be taken aback by him as they inform us that “in a manner diffi- 
cult to describe he always stood above his banal and dull witted 
aspects: and that a particular source of his strength lay in his ability 
to build castles in the air with intrepid and acute rationality.” 41 
There seem to be multiple Hitlers in this interpretive landscape, and 
we are searching for the actual one of 1919. We need proceed no fur- 
ther in a Hitler biography unless we can capture the one Hitler who 
walked through the entrance of the Leiber Room of the former Ster- 
neckerbraeue in Munich in 1919, because that Hitler was the same man 
who was carried out of the underground command center and into 
the garden of the Reichskanzlei a quarter of a century later. If we fail 
to comprehend the one who entered the beer hall in 1919, we can 
scarcely claim to comprehend the one who departed the bunker 
bereft of life in 1945. 

In holding up Hitler’s numerous projects from ages sixteen 
through nineteen for denigration as utopian, instead of heroically 
styled and pursued with devastating intensity, the biographers fail to 
show us the man who, from ages twenty through twenty-nine, set the 
foundation of the movement and performed so functionally in the 
hell of the western front. The biographers hover about the actual 
Hitler, making brilliantly perceptive generalizations. But, in literally 
every case, those perceptive insights are used to further the same 



tired picture of Hitler. The biographers, for example, connect 
Wagner and Hitler as kindred spirits: “Both Wagner and Hitler . . . 
possessed a furious will to power,” 42 both possessed a sense of being- 
set apart from the rest of ordinary humanity by the Romantic con- 
cept of genius, and both reveled in the vision of a heroic German 
struggle for greatness. The biographers then proceed to represent 
Wagner as composing some of his music with reliance on mass effects 
to cover up basic weaknesses, and they quote from a distinguished 
detractor who called him a barber and a charlatan. 43 The two latest 
great biographers, John Toland and Ian Kershaw, compare Hitler 
with Wagner but dash the insight by belittling the musical genius of 
both and associating the former with the alleged frailties of the latter. 

Often on the verge of giving us real insight into Hitler, the biog- 
raphers fail to link their profound near-insights with an obvious, nat- 
ural, and credible picture. The vast, Hitler-inspired Nazi rallies that 
characterized the Third Reich are noted as inconceivable without 
Wagner’s influence through his alleged demagogical opera. 44 The 
biographers thereby accurately present a relationship between 
Wagner and Hitler, but because they are dedicated in advance to the 
proposition of wickedness for the latter, they characterize Wagner’s 
art as demagogical and Hitler’s politics as those of demagoguery — 
grand demagoguery — and hate- filled vituperation. And in a realistic 
perception of Hitler expressed as his theatrical, essentially non- 
political relationship with the world, the best the biographers can do 
is to describe it as oppressed anxiety and belittle it as resulting in an 
overblown emphasis on the heroic staging of political events but 
little attention being paid to politics. These things continue to point 
to Hitler as never having been in politics but as having been involved 
in something else. 

Hitler’s explosions of oratory seem to have characterized him as 
much as his remarkable facility in architectural drawing and pur- 
sued him through his entry into Captain Mayr’s counterintelligence 
speaking detachment in August 1919. During his stay in the men’s 
home on the Meldemannstrasse in Vienna, various acquaintances com- 

OUT IF HE DESERT, 1910-1922 


mented on his polite manners and aloofness punctuated by outbursts 
of oratorical fury when aroused by strong emotions about some 
issue of the day being discussed by those around him. And during his 
service in a Bavarian reserve infantry regiment for the four years of 
World War I, his comrades commented consistently on his polite, 
reserved manner punctuated by outbursts of patriotic oratory in 
reaction to the grousing of those around him. Such evidence sup- 
ports a view that Hitler possessed inherent predilections in grand 
speaking — one man speaking, all others listening — by age fifteen, 
and these predilections accompanied him into his army speaking 
course at age twenty-nine in Munich. Although the audiences would 
be larger in late 1919 and large indeed in the 1930s, Hitler, when 
stirred emotionally, must be seen as an instinctive orator. Kubizek 
characterized Hitler as holding forth in conversation in a manner of 
almost always delivering speeches to him and, on notable occasions, 
Kubizek’s father and mother. 

Kubizek gives us extraordinary insight to Hitler’s qualities and 
style in the personal oratory that he affected around him. Kubizek 
came to realize that the friendship endured largely for the reason 
that he was a good listener and Hitler had a compulsive necessity to 
release his tempestuous feelings over the apparently unmemorable 
things that aroused his interests. Kubizek could note, for example, 
that “he used to give me long lectures about things that did not 
interest me at all . . . the excise duty levied at the Danube bridge or a 
collection in the streets for a charity lottery.” 45 And as a personal 
witness to the events, he gives us insights into the Hitler of the Ster- 
neckerbraeu noting that “these speeches ... seemed like a volcano 
erupting. It was as though something quite apart from him was 
bursting out of him. Such rapture I had only witnessed so far in the 
theater, when an actor had to express some violent emotions.” 46 
Here we see intensity and seriousness in a sixteen-year-old that is 
difficult to fathom, and we see it combined with special fluency in 
the spoken word. Long before 1 litler made his well-known and oft- 
quoted comments in Mein Kampf that in late 1919 he discovered he 



could speak, he had impressed others with impassioned oratory. For 
purposes of getting Hitler on stage in 1919 for his run to unparal- 
leled historical notoriety, we can generalize that an astonishingly 
intense and impassioned younger Hitler had already been in place as 
early as 1906 and could have been characterized as, among other 
things, a gifted orator. 

Notwithstanding the admonition of the great biographers that 
Hitler could be personified as craving power, we cannot claim cred- 
ibly that such a picture fits either the young Hitler or the older one 
who took the most decisive resolve of his life in late September 1919 
to enter the German Workers’ Party. There is a touch of the absurd 
to suggest that the young Hitler was driven by some kind of lust for 
power in his relations with the world around him. He certainly 
developed a close and possessive relationship with his best friend of 
the period, Kubizek, who played the role of patient and attentive lis- 
tener. But his friend makes it clear that the relationship was based on 
a similar passionate interest in art as well as Hitler’s need to share his 
innumerable, artistically inspired projects and vision through 
Wagner’s opera Rienzi. Other imaginatively and artistically inclined 
youngsters have undoubtedly displayed similar adolescent interests, 
but Kubizek remarked that, for Hitler, his seemingly imaginary per- 
fections would be brought into existence. We simply do not see urge 
to power in the young Hitler of the late Vienna period and Munich 
and World War I. This does not mean that Hitler, in defiance of his 
consuming penchant for limitless, ideal, and final solutions to his 
projects in the formative stages of his life, would not evolve into 
something else, but it is unlikely. 

The Hitler of 1909-1914 was one of reserved, explosive inten- 
sity and earnestness — to the young Hitler, everything was important 
and to be taken seriously. 47 The Hitler who strayed through Vienna 
after Kubizek’s departure in August 1908 added the experience of a 
self imposed fight for social survival and fascination with the disin- 
tegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He would enter World 
War I as the most intense personality of the twentieth century, with 

Oil OF FIE DESERT, 1813-1822 


immense latent talents, hut ineffectually drifting as an academically 
uneducated painter of capable landscapes and city views. We see 
little or no urge to power — to control those around him — and much 
that supports a view of culture through his freely rendered painted 
scenes near the various fronts, sketches and poetic contributions to 
the regimental news sheet, visits to museums and art galleries during 
his leave periods, omnivorous reading of anything available, and 
brooding thoughtfulness about the progress of the war. And lor a 
high-strung young man, Hitler would display a psychological sta- 
bility that defied the pressures of the most intense combat of World 
War I, especially in the western trenches in 1916 and 1917. He would 
portray his struggle for psychological equilibrium in words largely 
ignored by the biographers but vital for comprehending him. He 
noted without exaggeration or embellishment that “the enthusiasm 
gradually cooled and the exuberant joy was stifled by mortal fear. 
The time came when every man had to struggle between the instinct 
of self-preservation and the admonitions of duty. . . . Always when 
Death was on the hunt, a vague something tried to revolt, strove to 
represent itself as reason, yet it was only cowardice.” 48 Hitler strug- 
gled for psychological survival for a year until the winter of 
1915-1916, after which he would become master of the horror and 
“Fate could bring on the ultimate tests” without his nerves shattering 
or his reason failing. 49 This is not the picture of either a cipher or an 
emerging power-hungry demagogue. 

* * * 

With scarcely a ripple, this willful personality projected itself onto 
the German political battleground of late 1919 . Having been 
impelled by historical circumstance and genetic predisposition to 
deliver a message of salvation, Hitler delivered such a message to 
various Germans in the period from 1919 through 1933 . The mes- 
sage has been obscured for half a century by the circumstance of 
being interpreted as political propaganda. Hitler intended, naturally, 



that his speeches be effective political invective, but the vastness of 
the picture — always in grand historical perspective and always with 
an outsized enemy — made the “political” propaganda something- 
more like nonnegotiable sermon. Hitler’s musing in Mein Kampf con- 
firms his dedication to the spoken word to influence mankind, and he 
did not write the work so much as dictate it to a few of his converts. 
The work is a speech about the granite foundation of his thought, 
scarcely intended for reading but rather meant for listening. Hitler’s 
writing style in Mein Kampfhas been criticized ad nauseum as turgid 
and rambling. Because, however, Hitler spoke out of the pages rather 
than wrote prose on them, the disparaging generalizations about 
turgid prose are non sequiturs. Hitler conceptualized that the great 
movements of mankind had been created and guided by the spoken 
word, and, for example, we do not take the measure of a 
Muhammad, Jesus the Christ, and Gautama Buddha as writers but 
rather as inspired messengers and convincing speakers. Hitler simi- 
larly was a messenger rather than a writer or a political propagandist. 
But how could Hitler perform such a balancing act between the 
moral regeneration that he envisioned and the suffocating rules of 
the game associated with mass parliamentary politics? 

In his disguise as a politician, Hitler walked a fine line between 
practicing conventional politics on the one hand and presenting the 
sound and fury of an extreme revolutionary movement on the other. 
He faced this quandary from the beginning of his unannounced 
arrival out of the desert and succeeded in walking this line with con- 
summate dexterity. Hitler’s dexterity can be illustrated by the party’s 
success in getting votes in the national Reichstag election of May 4, 
1924. The election was the first national one in which the party 
entered National Socialist lists of candidates and took place after the 
disastrous revolutionary events of November 8—11, 1923, in which 
the Nazis were defeated in their attempted takeover of the Bavarian 
government and probable march on Berlin. At a time in which the 
party leadership had been dispersed and Hitler injured, tried, and 
placed in fortress detention, the Nazis and their voelkisch allies gar- 

Ill OF THE DESERT, 1910-1922 


nered almost two million votes and placed thirty-two deputies in the 
Reichstag . 50 Hitler had contributed to this astonishing result by his 
earlier speeches to large audiences in the beer cellars and meeting 
halls of Munich. 

* * * 

If we were to generalize about what Hitler was doing in this period, 
we would have to say that he was speaking incessantly and deploying 
force in the meeting halls and streets of Munich. This generalization 
is not particularly original, but its elaboration in an attempt to com- 
prehend Hitler is useful. In the case of the notorious violence associ- 
ated with the Nazis, he would elaborate that even in the beginning, 
the meeting hall protection squad “had been trained to carry out an 
attack blindly [i.e., without question] but not because ... it honored 
the blackjack as the highest spirit, but because it understood that the 
greatest spirit can be eliminated when its bearer is struck down with 
a blackjack .” 51 He noted specifically that his political combat element 
“did not want to set up violence as a goal, but to protect the prophets 
of the spiritual goal from being shoved aside by violence .” 52 

In the few words above, Hitler pulled together the Nazi move- 
ment as one driven to achieve a spiritual goal announced by a 
prophet and which required violence to shield its messengers. The 
word prophet recurs repeatedly in Mein Kampf and there can be little 
doubt that Hitler considered himself to be the prophet of the move- 
ment. He would, during the early twenties, be referred to as a 
drummer by various observers, and in his memoir he refers to him- 
self as one. If the word drummer were a metaphor for messenger of a 
spiritual idea, then we can see Hitler comprehended by himself and 
contemporaries as a prophet, or at least one who spoke prophetically 
rather than politically. If the word drummer can be comprehended 
more specifically as one who anticipated the arrival of a more senior 
prophet, messiah, or savior dedicated to the redemption of a people, 
then we can also see Hitler as a drummer who incidentally 



announced himself. The revisionist point is that Hitler cannot be 
considered to have understood himself as ever having been in poli- 
tics. It cannot be doubted that to redeem the Germans in a modern 
state, he was forced to use politics as a means to the end of redemp- 
tion. While all others around him practiced politics with constrained 
goals and the usual motives of profession, personal interest, or the 
like, Hitler marched toward the salvation of a great people. As such, 
he was understood by few, worshipped by his adherents, and feared 
by his opponents. 

Hitler would construct the following picture of the genesis of 
National Socialism: “Some idea of genius arises in the brain of a man 
who feels called upon to transmit his knowledge to the rest of 
humanity. He preaches his view and gradually wins a circle of adher- 
ents. This process of the direct and personal transmittance of a man’s 
ideas to the rest of his fellow men is the most ideal and natural .” 53 
Here we see no hint of practical politics or political theory. And with 
uncompromising logic, Hitler would continue that the ideal move- 
ment was one in which the leader — the single genius who received 
the vision — would spread the message to potential converts face to 
face by means of the spoken word. Hermann Otto Hoyer’s painting 
of Hitler pictured at the beginning of the movement is not entitled 
In the Beginning There Was the Political-Scientific Journal Article but, 
unerringly, In the Beginning Was the Word. 5 ^ We see Hitler in a dingy, 
dimly lit, windowless tavern standing on an improvised platform 
speaking to Germans. In an almost uncanny way, the painting brings 
into focus National Socialism at its inception: Hitler at a meeting 
speaking directly to potential adherents without the intermediary of 
an organization and protected in the painting by the stalwart, gray 
windbreaker-clad follower deployed close by. It is perhaps not too 
much to suggest that Hitler conceptualized the entire Nazi move- 
ment as he himself, adequately protected, preaching to Germans. If 
this generalization were accurate and it was evident to Hitler that he 
could not personally deliver the message to a growing mass of Ger- 
mans, then he must be considered to have seen an organization as a 

OUT OF HE DESERT, 1019-1022 


necessary evil. Hitler evidently agreed with this analysis because he 
could remark that “the function of an organization is the transmis- 
sion of a definite idea — which always first arises from the brain of an 
individual— to a larger body of men and the supervision of its real- 
ization. Hence, organization is in all things only a necessary evil.” 55 

In his 1925 memoir, Hitler would describe the progress of the early 
German Workers’ Party almost exclusively in terms of the numbers 
of Germans attending the meetings at which the apolitical idea of 
salvation had begun to be broadcast. He did not describe the idea as 
one derived from some faceless organization but an idea which had 
sprung from the mind of “an individual.” 56 Writers on National 
Socialism, biographers of Hitler, and historians agree that the move- 
ment was derived uniquely from Hitler. Witness Hitler’s own 
description in numerical detail of the beginning stages of the Move- 
ment. “I still remember how I myself in this first period once dis- 
tributed about eighty [invitations] and how in the evening we sat 
waiting for the masses who were expected to appear. An hour later 
... we were again the seven men, the old seven.” 57 Attendance: zero. 
Then, “we changed over to having the invitation slips . . . mimeo- 
graphed The result at the next meeting was a few more listeners. 

Thus the number rose slowly from eleven to thirteen, finally to sev- 
enteen, to twenty-three to thirty-four listeners.” 58 From the view- 
point of Hitler characterized as messenger, it is significant to point 
out that he used the word listener for the Germans who would attend 
the meetings and not attendees, observers, or invitees. Emboldened 
by the presence of thirty-four listeners, Hitler convinced the com- 
mittee to advertise in a Munich newspaper a meeting to be held in 
the Munich Hofbmeuhauskeller “in a little room with a capacity of 
barely one hundred and thirty people but which seemed as a mighty 
edifice.” 59 Success followed, for as the meeting opened at seven 
o’clock in the evening, “one hundred and eleven people were pre- 



sent.” 60 National Socialism at that moment could be seen as Adolf 
Hitler speaking convincingly to 1 1 1 Germans. 

After the success of the Munich Hofbraeuhauskeller, he pressed 
later in October 1919 for a second, larger meeting, which was held at 
the Eberlbraeukeller before an audience of 1 30. And two weeks later he 
spoke again, in the same hall, to an audience of 170. He pressed for 
a larger hall, which was found in the other end of town; partly for 
that reason, he spoke before a smaller audience of 140. The other 
committee members predicted doom because of excessive repetition 
of the “demonstrations.” In the following words, Hitler would 
recount that “there were violent arguments in which I upheld the 
view that a city of seven hundred thousand inhabitants could stand 
not one meeting every two weeks, but ten every week . . . that the 
road we had taken was the right one, and that sooner or later, with 
steady perseverance, success was bound to come.” The apparent lack 
of sense of proportion — namely, “ten every week” — and the bound- 
less determination — namely, “sooner or later . . . success was bound 
to come” — was vintage Hitler. 61 

In 1919 and 1920 the Nazi movement would begin to embrace a 
rough edge of street fighters illustrated by the sparkling humor of 
the later Sturmabteilung (SA) street donation collectors of the early 
1930s and their signs: contributions, please, for the wicked Nazis. Hostile 
contemporaries would superficially criticize the Nazis for their wor- 
ship of the blackjack, but Hitler would make it clear in his usual apo- 
litical sweep that “if any man wants to put into effect a bold idea 
whose realization seems useful in the interests of his fellow men, he 
will first of all have to seek supporters who are ready to fight for his 
intentions.” 62 Hitler could scarcely have made it more clear that pol- 
itics for him was conversion of Germans to an idea, and he sought 
followers who would be both willing and able to fight for it: “swift as 
greyhounds, tough as leather, hard as Krupp steel.” 63 The theme of 
intolerantly fanatical fighters would be reinforced by his messianic- 
cast words that “the greatness of every mighty organization 
embodying an idea in this world lies in the religious fanaticism and 

Ill Gl HE DESERT, 1919-1022 


intolerance with which, fanatically convinced of its own right, it 
intolerantly imposes its will against all others.” 64 The words above 
were dictated in 1924. They carry no hint of politics. 

Hitler would also conceptualize the movement as requiring a 
geographical focal center: “Only the presence of such a place, 
exerting the magic spell of a Mecca or a Rome, can in the long run 
give the movement a force which is based on inner unity and the 
recognition of a summit representing this unity.” 65 With historical 
perspective and little regard for practical details, he would express 
the need for a sacrosanct geographic focus, and in choosing Mecca 
as an example, he expressed himself more as a holy man than a dem- 
agogue. Munich would be the focal center. 

After having dipped momentarily as a speaker to 140 souls lis- 
tening in the cross-town meeting in the Deutsches Reich on 
Dachauerstrasse , Hitler noted his fierce struggle with the executive 
committee to spread the word. The next meeting insisted upon by 
him, however, showed him to be right. The attendance would rise to 
“over two hundred.” He urged preparations for another meeting and 
commented that “the audience rose to over two hundred and seventy 
heads.” Then, two weeks later, toward the end of 1919, “for the sev- 
enth time, we called together the supporters and friends of the new 
movement and the same hall could barely hold the people who had 
grown to over four hundred.” 66 Hitler presented the spirit of the 
new movement as follows: “A man who knows a thing, who is aware 
of a given danger, and sees the possibility of a remedy with his own 
eyes, has the duty and obligation by God, not to work ‘silently,’ but 
to stand up before the whole public against the evil and for its 
cure.” 67 Hitler would use the words to reject German antiquity 
enthusiasts and knights of the spiritual sword, the latter being 
wielders of the pen in the attempt to achieve nationalist ends. Hitler 
would also understand the power of the German press and the 
“scribblers” in it to influence public opinion. He would nevertheless 
enforce the Schwerpunkt (major effort) for National Socialism in the 
following words: “Every last agitator who possesses the courage to 



stand on a tavern table among his adversaries, to defend his opinion 
with manly forthrightness, does more than a thousand [silent antiq- 
uity enthusiasts and knights of the spiritual sword].” 

After the success of the four hundred listeners at the Deutsches 
Reich but after violent argument and withdrawal of Karl Harrer as 
first chairman of the party, Hitler forced “the first great mass 
meeting” after fewer than five months on the committee which 
would be a party. The great affair was set for February 24, 1920; 
based on the mild noise generated by the party, it had become 
noticed by the great Marxist parties, the Communist and Social 
Democratic. Hitler therefore had to take account of the reality for 
conducting politics in terms of mass meetings that the Marxists 
would attempt to break them up. Still living in his regimental army 
barracks in Munich, Hitler would put together a band of his former 
army comrades to defend the speaker from hecklers and those who 
would begin a meeting-terminating brawl. In an unrealistic appreci- 
ation of the toughness and brutality of the Marxists in a fragile 
postwar German republic, the Liberal press and intellectuals would 
harp on the theme of the brutality and violence of the Nazis. 
Writers would use words such as barbarous, savage, and violent to 
denigrate the developing movement and claim that Hitler and the 
Nazis embraced violence as an end in itself. 

As the self-announced destroyer of Marxism in Germany, how- 
ever, Hitler would point out in colorful detail that the masses could 
only be won back to Germany by countervailing force. Under 
written attack by opposing nationalist intellectuals and believers in 
spiritual resistance to the Marxists, he could note “the fact that in a 
public meeting a Demosthenes can be brought to silence if only fifty 
idiots, supported by their voices and their fists, refuse to let him 
speak.” 68 Liberal intellectuals such as Thomas Mann would later 
castigate Hitler and the Nazis for their rejection of tolerant 
humanism, assuming apparently that such humanism could success- 
fully combat the Marxists. Hitler, however, was dedicated to 
advancing against them head-on with the spoken word from table- 

ill OF HE DESERT, 1919-1922 


tops in beer halls; and he was prepared to defend his own meetings 
and break up those of his enemies. When he entered the Festsaal of 
the Hofbraeuhaus at quarter after seven on the evening of February 
24, 1 920, for the first mass meeting, he observed almost two thousand 
people shoulder-to-shoulder, roughly half of whom appeared to be 
enemy Communists and Independent Socialists resolved to break it 
up. The resulting meeting would be easy to characterize as the 
essence of the Nazi style in “politics” for the entire period of the 
interrupted and circuitous march to power. Hitler would speak, lis- 
teners would be overwhelmed by his passion and logic, and Marxist 
agitators countered by force. 

Hitler would reveal his metier in this situation especially in the 
early 1920s. The urbane, artistic, outgoing Hanfstaengl could elabo- 
rate based on the overwhelming effects of his initial exposure to 
Hitler’s genius as a speechmaker and, within the spirit of the moment, 

he had to be reasonably careful about what he said in case the 
police should arrest him again as a disturber of the peace. Perhaps 
this is what gave such a brilliant quality to [the first speech I 
attended] which for innuendo and irony I have never heard 
matched, even by him. No one who judges his capacity as a 
speaker from the performances of his later years can have any true 

insight into his gifts In his early years he had a command of 

voice, phrase, and effect which have never been equaled. 69 

And as concerns the defensive aspects of Nazi politics in the 
early 1920s and early 1930s, Hanfstaengl could note that in the 
middle of applause toward the finale of the speech that a middle- 
aged man with a dark mustache would hand up to Hitler a mug of 
beer for a draft. Hanfstaengl looked at his bodyguard and saw that 
after taking the mug back “his right hand returned to the bulging 
pocket of his coat. From the way in which he kept his hand there, his 
eyes fixed on the front row, [Hanfstaengl] knew he was holding a 
revolver.” 70 And Hitler himself was commonly armed during the 
period 1920-1923 with an automatic pistol positioned under his 



clothing on the hip and a sturdy whip heavily weighted in the 
handle. Kurt Ludecke, an intelligent, well-educated follower during 
the period could observe that “he was never without an automatic 
pistol which made his hip bulge as though with some deformity.” 71 
When not speaking at organized meetings he spent much time at 
various favorite cafes and beer halls and often the homes of converts 
to the movement and would be accompanied by a small, faithful 
protective element — Christian Weber, Max Amann, Hans Ulrich 
Klintzsch, and Ulrich Graf — well-armed and representative of the 
style and dangers of the movement. And Hitler could not have made 
the messianic nature of the whole business more clear than in words 
about his house guards that “like a swarm of hornets they swooped 
down on the disturbers of our meetings ... without regard for 
wounds and bloody victims, filled entirely with one great thought of 
creating a free path for the holy mission of our movement.” 72 



Hitler had a particular skill in sarcasm, depreciatory hints, and 
humor in his speechmaking, which carried over into his style of 
talking rather than writing in Mein Kampf. His sarcastic criticism of 
the bourgeois opposition on the matter of the mass political meeting 
illustrated his own energetic conception of propaganda. Concerning 
Hitler’s characteristic urge to action, Hanfstaengl could note that it 
was typical of Hitler “that you could never keep him off the 
streets.” 73 Hitler would comment that in 1919—1921, he personally 
attended bourgeois meetings. He noted that “they always made the 
same impression on me as in my youth the prescribed spoonful of 
cod-liver oil. You’ve got to take it, and it’s supposed to be very good, 
but it tastes terrible.” And in a minor sarcastic triumph, he would 
continue that “if the German people were tied together with cords 
and pulled forcibly into these bourgeois ‘ demonstrations' and the 
doors were locked until the end of the performance and no one 
allowed to leave, it might lead to success in a few centuries.” 74 He 

OUT IF THE DESERT, 1919-1922 


could bring into perspective the divorce from reality of the parlia- 
mentary parties about the near extinction of Germany in words that 
“the whole thing was without any discipline, more like a yawning 
bridge club than a meeting of the people which had just been 
through their greatest revolution.” 75 

Hitler feared the extinction of Germany as a state and the Ger- 
mans as a people as a result of the moral erosion of Marxism and 
Liberal democracy. Hitler theorized that the misfortune of the Ger- 
mans was not from the usual suspect of the loss of World War l. 76 He 
would argue that “the easiest and hence most widespread explana- 
tion of the present misfortune is that it was brought about [as a con- 
sequence] of the lost War and therefore the War is the cause of the 
present evil.” 77 He would refute this explanation by noting that the 
military collapse of Germany was not the cause of Germany’s “pre- 
sent day misfortune” but itself only an effect of other crimes. 
Hitler’s idea of genius was recognition of the cause of the existing 
catastrophe as the earlier erosion of the German community by par- 
liamentary democracy, Marxism, and particularism — the funda- 
mental destructors of a German community. He would link these 
enemies with the great social force of the time, which was the expan- 
sion of the population and its redistribution from the countryside to 
the geometrically expanding cities. He would observe that the 
reality of the time was the mass conversion of the German rural 
population into workers in the burgeoning cities and their further 
conversion into internationalist Marxist socialists. 78 He would also 
observe that the bourgeois parliamentarians pursued party interests 
to the virtual exclusion of German and that, with no overarching 
philosophy they could not provide German leadership. 

He would approach the whole business in a hopelessly idealistic 
manner, noting that “while the program of a solely political party is 
a formula for a [successful] outcome of the next election, the pro- 
gram of a philosophy is the formulation of a declaration of war 
against the existing order.” 79 He could be seen as presenting a 
revealed message to Germans to awake in contrast to an Allied 



wartime propaganda ministry presenting crudely falsified and exag- 
gerated arguments directed against a wartime enemy. But Hitler’s 
revealed message was subject to identical rules of mass effect and 
crowd psychology as, for example, British wartime propaganda, so 
how can we differentiate between Hitler’s revealed message and 
what we understand as political propaganda? 

In the way in which we commonly understand propaganda today 
and the way in which wartime propaganda emerged during World 
War I, we cannot say that he was either a propagandist or a dema- 
gogue. Whereas Lloyd George’s conventional although brilliant 
wartime propaganda was intended to support British munitions pro- 
duction, Hitler preached a new philosophy. Hitler used the spoken 
word with principles of mass psychology to attract men willing to 
fight with their fists for an idea of genius. Lloyd George was oriented 
to the practical result of assuring British munitions production while 
Hitler was oriented to the creation of a new man. If ever there were 
a strategy of the indirect approach, we must see it here with Hitler 
attracting and creating the men who would help him spread “a 
clearly delineated faith .” 80 

Hitler would contrast the tame meetings of the bourgeois parties 
with Nazi gatherings and comment that “no one begged the audi- 
ence graciously to permit our speech, nor was anyone granted 
unlimited time for discussion; it was simply stated that we were mas- 
ters of the meeting . . . and that one who would dare to utter so much 
as a single cry of interruption would be mercilessly thrown out .” 81 
And such was not just bombast from a desk inside the walls of Lands- 
berg Fortress. Hitler had begun personally at the beginning of the 
mass meetings to organize a “house guard in the form of a monitor 
service ,” 82 which would evolve into a uniformed instrument of force 
conceptualized by Hitler as indispensable to achieve power through 
domination of meeting hall, street, and countryside in Germany. 
Here we see more than the charismatic leader so skillfully synthe- 
sized by the political scientist Franz Neumann. We see Hitler pull 
together a picture of nobility shielded by force, dictating “that we 

Oil II THE DESERT, 1110-1922 


are fighting for a mighty idea, so great and noble that it well deserves 
to be guarded and protected with the last drop of blood. [The mon- 
itors] were imbued with the doctrine that, so long as reason was 
silent and violence had the last word... our monitor troop must be 
preceded by the reputation of not being a debating club, but a 
combat group determined to go to any length.” 83 These words reveal 
Hitler being Hitler and cannot be paraphrased without becoming 

In a peculiarly detached fashion, Hitler would give us reasons for 
the radicality of his early propaganda: 

As director of the party’s propaganda 1 took much pains, not only to 
prepare the soil for the future greatness of the movement, but [also] 
by an extremely radical conception [of] this work I also strove to 
bring it about that the party should only obtain the best material. For 
the more radical and inflammatory my propaganda was, the more 
this frightened weaklings and hesitant characters, and prevented 
them from penetrating the primary core of our organization. 84 

With imaginative slants on propaganda such as these, Hitler cannot 
be characterized as either an ordinary or an extraordinary rabble- 
rouser but as a man with a sense of mission. Somehow or other in 
concepts such as these, Hitler stood aside from mere demagoguery. 
And to interpret Hitler as a kind of super demagogue is to trivialize 
what happened in Germany and not remotely comprehend him. 

*• * * 

As concerns the violence associated with the movement, however, 
the conventional wisdom has taken misleading liberties in pre- 
senting violent events and the motives for them. In the epic battle 
during the mass meeting in the Uofbraeuhaus in November 1921, the 
Social Democratic Party in Munich had planned in advance to break 
up such a nationalist gathering and through the timing and effect, 
destroy the young Nazi movement. In his urge to emphasize the use 



of force by Hitler, no great biographer makes the point in this great 
battle of the early Nazis that the relatively mild Social Democrats 
had determined to break up this mass meeting. The Social Democ- 
ratic Party was the strongest in the Weimar Republic and dedicated 
more than any other to support of the republic and law and order. 
This party, nevertheless, would direct several hundred fighters into 
the meeting and signal the start of a riot with the roar of the Social 
Democratic slogan, freiheit (freedom). Yet with wanton recklessness 
in interpretation, Joachim Fest would state as if it were a natural and 
unassailable fact that Hitler caused the riot. Within the context of 
the use of force by the Nazis and Hitler’s comment that “the masses 
need something to dread,” the biographer would note that “Hitler 
may have had this principle in mind when he instigated the so-called 
Battle in the Hofbraeuhaus of November, 1 92 1 .” 85 

Hitler may have had many things in mind with the opening of 
this meeting, but it must be evident that he had been caught off 
guard with a small storm detachment of about forty-six “lads” and 
faced mortal danger to his person and severe setback to the entire 
movement in the event of the breaking up of the meeting. Hitler 
actually spoke from a beer table “in the midst of the people” and in 
front of him and “especially to the left . . . only enemies were sitting 
and standing.” Under such circumstances Hitler cannot be seen as 
anxious to incite anything, and he commented that “after about an 
hour and a half — I was able to talk that long despite interruptions — 
it seemed almost as if I was going to be master of the situation.” 86 
Then a small psychological mistake he made in warding off an inter- 
ruption gave the signal for the Social Democrats to make an end to 
h i m and his people. Pandemonium followed — roaring, screaming 
crowd over which beer mugs flew like howitzer shells, cracking of 
chair legs, and so on — and Hitler noted that he remained standing 
on the table in the midst of it. Frau Magdalena Schweyer, propri- 
etress of a vegetable and fruit shop near Hitler’s tiny room on Thier- 
schstrasse, corroborated the scene, noting that from her safer position 
on the floor she glanced up curiously “to see Hitler still standing 

OUT OF HE DESERT, 1010-1922 


atop a table despite the barrage of heavy mugs flying past his 

head.” 87 

This successful defense of the mass meeting of November can 
be used as empirical evidence to comprehend Hitler and to gauge 
the effectiveness of his biographers. First of all, Hitler and the Nazis 
had to defend themselves against numerous tough and determined 
Social Democrats — let alone tougher and more determined Com- 
munists illustrating the violence associated with the Left in Ger- 
many in the 1920s. We could rhapsodize, perhaps, that Weimar 
Germany was a tough place for conducting nationalist politics but 
that at least in Munich, in late 1921, a new sheriff was in town. If the 
early Nazis were under intimidating physical attack by Social 
Democrats in Munich, we must reevaluate upward the challenges 
presented to Hitler and the expanding movement later in population 
centers like Essen in the Ruhr, Leipzig in Saxony, Hamburg and 
finally the great urban center of Berlin. And as concerns Hitler him- 
self, he cannot be interpreted adequately as politician. Can we feel 
comfortable accepting that any practicing politician would have 
addressed the monitor group assigned to keep order at a political 
meeting in the following words? “I made it clear to the lads . . . that 
not a man of us must leave the hall unless [he] were carried out 
dead; I myself would remain in the hall, and I did not believe that a 
single one of them would desert me.” 88 In spite of this kind of evi- 
dence of Hitler and the Nazis on the defensive, one great biographer 
would state that Hitler incited the riot that followed. If anybody in 
the world were capable of inciting a riot in Munich of the 1920s it 
would have been Hitler, but apparently the inanity of Hitler inciting 
a riot at his own mass meeting did not occur to the biographer while 
the urge to portray a wicked man slipped through his critical faculty. 

Chapter 4 



O n September 14, 1921, just prior to the defense of the Fest- 
saal and a year later in 1922, Hitler took actions that prob- 
ably help to interpret the man and the movement more than any 
others during the 1920s. The biographers register the events duti- 
fully and dully as important for any descriptive rendering of Hitler 
and use the second event to disparage Hitler and the Nazis rather 
than comprehend them. The biographers describe that Hitler “had 
turned the original organization from discussion to action” 1 but fail 
to acknowledge that we see force directed toward the achievement 
of a distant prophetic vision. To use Hitler’s own astonishing words: 
“force always must have ideas to support it.” In late 1921, Hitler 
sensed momentary but immense danger to his vision of a German 
community from Bavarian separatism as concentrated in the party 
Bayernbund (Bavarian League) led by the engineer Otto Ballerstedt. 
We see little political theory operating and little attention to party 
program. We see much of the leader, a polar starlike consistency in 
his actions, and we see street fighting, meeting breaking, violence- 
prone disciples. Hitler had recognized Ballerstedt momentarily “as 
my most dangerous opponent,” 2 and decided to prevent Ballerstedt 
from speaking at his own mass meeting. In a well-organized attack, 
Hitler and his lieutenant Hermann Esser and an accompanying ret- 
inue would sweep into an opponent’s meeting already packed with 
scores of Nazi Sport Section fighters and demand “the floor.” In the 




ensuing riot, Hitler’s fighters flooded across the speaker’s stage, and, 
amongst other things, beat Ballerstedt. Although the wheels of jus- 
tice ground slowly, Hitler would go on trial for disturbing the peace 
and be convicted and sentenced on January 12, 1922, to three 
months in prison. He would eventually serve four weeks in Munich’s 
Stadelheim Prison, being released on July 27, 1922, on remission of 
the sentence, the first of only two times he would be imprisoned in 
his turbulent existence. But why such effort and sacrifice over a man, 
Ballerstedt, who was neither Jewish, nor Marxist, nor bourgeois 
November Criminal? 

The answer to the question brings Hitler into focus nicely. Inter- 
preting him as an intuitive, rapidly maturing German messiah, we 
can see that he could not permit a Ballerstedt and other Ballerstedts 
to fragment the Germans into the older tribes or more modern 
Bavarians, Saxons, Pomeranians, Silesians, Alsatians, Prussians, and 
the like. Although touting himself as the destroyer of Marxism in 
Germany, Hitler would squarely face a more immediate enemy in 
the form of virulent anti-Prussianism in Bavaria. Hitler instinctively 
sensed the danger and noted that after Bismarck’s achievement of 
unifying by force and statesmanship, a large part of the German 
nation, the various tribes were at work attempting to break it up. 
Recognizing an enemy and with staggering disregard for practical, 
realistic, and legal action, Hitler would personally lead a physical 
attack on an opponent’s mass meeting in order to prevent him from 
speaking. And what an insight in support of his style as messiah that 
he could remark doggedly, with no regrets, during the police inquiry 

that “it’s all right We got what we wanted. Ballerstedt did not 

speak.” 3 Hitler did not remark that he got what he wanted by 
breaking up the printing presses of an opponent’s newspaper but by 
preventing his opponent from speaking. And as concerns the almost 
outlandish use of force, we see Hitler conceptualizing, organizing, 
and leading a physical attack on a political adversary. Could we 
imagine any contemporary high-level political figure during his rise 
to political influence, for example, a Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd 



George or a Churchill, Briand, and Roosevelt to have functioned 
similarly? And with what might seem to he exceptions in the cases of 
Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, and Mussolini, we see the Russian Marxist 
socialists tied to their printing presses and Mussolini as the editor of 
the leading Marxist socialist newspaper in prewar Italy. Hitler can be 
comprehended in microcosm — a single characteristic action — as 
possessed by a vision that could only be brought into existence by 
conscious intention of spoken word and force. 

Approximately a year later, in October 1922, Hitler concocted an 
action that proved to be the turning point in the early expansion of 
the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP or 
National Socialist German Workers’ Party) out of Munich. During 
the same month, Julius Streicher, leader of the Nuremberg branch of 
the Deutsche Werkgemeinschaft (German Labor Community), would 
bring his following into the NSDAP as a center for the expansion of 
Nazism into the Franconian region of Germany in the northern part 
of Bavaria. But in the case of Coburg, a medium-sized city on the 
northern fringes of Bavaria dominated by Marxists, Hitler would 
execute his first foray outside of Munich into enemy political terrain, 
terrain dominated by Reds who were accustomed to mastery over 
meetings and street demonstrations of the area. As a single coherent 
action compressed into a two-day period, it had no peer in the entire 
period 1919-1933 for daring, audacity, insolence, and success. 

To comprehend Hitler by analysis of this single action, we can 
begin by pointing out that he alone — with neither committee nor 
gray eminence nor mistress advising him — conceptualized the 
action. To comprehend the action as an insolent junket by a petty 
tyrant who controlled a small, localized, radical political party also 
misses the mark. No petty political tyrant, even one who aspired to 
be a mammoth one, would have considered an action so daring and 
audacious. Not only did he lead a raid on a target 160 miles distant, 
but he also did so for the expressed purpose of proving that nation- 
alists could hold mass meetings and demonstrations anywhere in 
Germany in the face of the pervasive “Red terror.” Obviously, 



breaking the control of the Marxists in Coburg would not ensure 
success in Germany, and the point is that Hitler could be seen as 
having begun to create an all-German vision. Hitler would gener- 
alize that “the experience of Coburg had the significance that we 
now began systematically, in all places where for many years the Red 
terror had prevented any meeting of people with different ideas, to 
break this terror.” 4 He issued these words in the context of the use 
of force and the necessity for a political street-fighting organization 
to ensure the spread of the spoken word. “From now on, National 
Socialist battalions were assembled again and again in such localities, 
and in Bavaria gradually one Red citadel after another fell a victim 
to National Socialist propaganda.” 3 

In leading this foray, Hitler, who was always able to stand apart 
from his banal personal aspects, seems to stand apart from the biogra- 
phers’ approbation as a study in tyranny. It is always possible, of course, 
that he must be reevaluated as something else. Franz Neumann, the 
perceptive contemporary analyst of National Socialism, would suggest 
the importance of charismatic rule in the understanding of Nazism 
and Hitler. 6 Neumann, however, would contend that the Nazi move- 
ment was caused by the “imperialism of German monopoly capi- 
talism,” and even his suggestion of the importance of charismatic rule 
seems to fall short of the mark. Hitler eventually achieved authori- 
tarian political control over Germany, but to call him a despot and a 
study in tyranny with the implication that he and a clique achieved 
absolute control over a great gray bound mass of Germans is unsatis- 
fying. Biographer Alan Bullock’s impressive title, Hitler: A Study in 
Tyranny should probably have been: Hitler: A Study in Popular Tyranny , 
or, given 1 litler’s mass popularity and almost unique sense of a great 
and final message, Hitler: A Study in Messianic Tyranny. The reader thus 
would have been alerted to the fact that he was not being treated to an 
ordinary, pejoratively cast tyrant who exercised power with a rigor not 
authorized by law or justice, but to a different phenomenon. 

The existing situation by as early as 1922 and its parallel with a 
“movement” like Islam and a prophet like Muhammad is striking. As 



concerns law, messiahs, and the comprehension of Hitler, the vast 
structure of civil and criminal law that comprises Arabic jurispru- 
dence derives from the Koran — -the compilation of the divine mes- 
sages that, according to Islamic belief, were dictated to Muhammad 
at irregular intervals by the archangel Gabriel as the word of God — 
and the tradition of the Prophet’s sayings and acts known as the 
Hadith. There exists in the world therefore the presence of a vast 
code of law based on the spoken word of a man who relayed the will 
of God as His messenger. With a German who was identified by a 
contemporary of considerable intellect as having a “messianic com- 
plex,” by 1922 and who launched eight hundred unquestioning 
street fighters into combat with the Reds in Coburg during the same 
year, we seem to have something more than merely a study in 
tyranny as demanded by unsympathetic and outraged biographers. 

With Hitler interpreted as a modern messiah, it is little surprise 
that his word would be taken as law by many within the movement, 
and similar words and actions later were taken as law in Germany. In 
a future yet to come, Hitler in the culminating public explanation for 
the purge of the leadership of an expanded and turbulent SA would 
orate that, “If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to 
the regular courts of justice . . . then all I can say to him is this: in this 
hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby 
1 became the supreme Justiciar of the German people.” 7 There was 
certainly a considerable difference between the pervasiveness of 
German jurisprudence in twentieth-century Germany and the 
tribal-based law of the 600s in Arabia, but in both cases we see the 
spoken word and actions of two enormously charismatic historical 
figures becoming the law itself. In the case of the German, the biog- 
raphers see negatively cast despotism — no enlightened tyranny 
here — while the chroniclers of Muhammad see the messenger of 
God. While each preached the message of a holy mission, one is seen 
as having had a messianic complex, and the other is seen as the 
Islamic Prophet. Yet to attribute to a perfect messiah — a child and a 
man so earnest, so intense, so brooding, and so utterly convincing as 



Adolf Hitler, the milder attributes of a messianic complex is rather 
like attributing a Napoleonic complex to Napoleon. 

*■ * * 

In January 1923, not long after the Coburg affair, the French gov- 
ernment determined to employ armed force to bend the Germans to 
the will of France. The resulting French-dominated military occu- 
pation of the Ruhr district could not be understood accurately as 
forcing the Germans into a simple overdue payment of a large repa- 
ration of telephone poles but to force the Germans to acknowledge 
defeat and answer to the consequences. Prime Minister Raymond 
Poincare, patriotic, vindictive, and tough, was the architect of the 
action that exemplified French hegemony on the European conti- 
nent and was the single most important political action of the period 
from the signing of the Versailles treaty to the ascension of Hitler to 
the chancellorship of Germany in 1933. In his efforts to force the 
Germans to pay reparations, Poincare destroyed German finances 
and destabilized the Weimar Republic to the point of mortal danger 
from Communist, nationalist, and separatist uprisings. The Germans 
experienced an inflation so extreme that even to imagine it could be 
likened to trying to comprehend the immensity of the universe. 
Hitler faced the beginning of this situation when the French inva- 
sion broke out on January 11, 1923, and he was forced to take action 
to exploit the republic’s destabilization. 

The great biographers, however, fail to relate Hitler effectively 
with the bad times of 1923 fastened on Germany partly by its own 
recalcitrance in paying excessive reparation but largely by France, 
“still full of hatred and suspicion of her neighbor.” We see Germany 
traumatized in 1923 but not within the context of French initiative 
in bringing about the trauma. We do not see the disastrous situation 
correlated with the outbreak of war in the next decade. The French 
government would retrieve Poincare in 1922 to save the franc and to 
collect reparations from the Germans. Poincare would save France’s 



currency from its well-developed inflation but with reckless disre- 
gard for long-term consequences, he would employ armed force to 
collect reparation. As a French statesman executing French foreign 
policy, Poincare disregarded the fact of German power that, 
although presently subdued, would inexorably revive. Similarly, he 
disregarded the surety that the German government and people 
would be presented with motive for revenge. From such a perspec- 
tive, Poincare’s Ruhr invasion can be interpreted as the most impor- 
tant political action of the 1920s, leading directly to war in the 1930s. 

The French invasion inspired an immediate wave of national 
unity, and by March 1923, with draconian French measures against 
German demonstrations and sabotage, Germany experienced a sense 
of common purpose in resistance to the French similar to that in 
August 1914. The German chancellor, Wilhelm Cuno, instituted a 
policy of passive resistance and organized a front of national unity 
that included the Marxist, bourgeois, and nationalist parties. Virtually 
all of Germany lined up in support of the republican government 
against the foreign enemy. In this moment of national euphoria, Hitler 
would reveal his style, logic, and faith probably more than in any other 
action, particularly because we see him in the delicate beginning 
stages of his march to infamy. He would remove the NSDAP from the 
national front and forbid his astounded followers to engage in passive 
resistance against the French. Yet Hitler would view this confounding 
action as so plain that he would use the words with respect to those 
astounded that “If they haven’t caught on that this idiocy about a 
common front is fatal for us, they’re beyond help.” 8 These words have 
a special spontaneity. They reveal Hitler willing to take an apparently 
inexplicable stand against the wave of patriotic enthusiasm in Ger- 
many, but to what purpose and based on what rationale? 

With the biographers dedicated to an interpretation of Hitler as 
a shallow, wicked man dedicated to power aggrandizement, they are 
forced to see one of the critical decisions of his career as unscrupu- 
lous. Yet Hitler, in Mein Kampf presented with excruciating clarity 
the reasons why his movement must not have entered the national 



front, and these reasons cannot be seen as those of either a dema- 
gogue or a propagandist. He would describe unconditionally that the 
real enemy of Germany was not the French but the internal Marxist 
enemy that had been the cause of German defeat. In vintage Hitler 
expression: “What we are compelled to experience around us and in 
us today is only the horrible, maddening, and infuriating influence of 
the perjuring deed of November 9, 1918.” The deed of November 9 
was the Social Democratic Party’s declaration of a German republic 
while the field armies were still engaged in combat. Hitler perceived 
the Marxists to be the destroyers of the German Second Reich 
through the conversion of the growing millions of German workers 
to internationalism, and doing so in the face of the ineffectual poli- 
cies of the bourgeois political parties. This generalization, pompous 
as it may seem, is nonetheless accurate and reveals Hitler as neither 
demagogue nor propagandist but as a messenger of German salva- 
tion through the destruction of the Marxists. In March 1923, and 
with consistent logic, Hitler had ordered therefore the NSDAP not 
to support the policy of passive resistance against the French. 

Hitler saw his stand as one of the crucial decisions of his life. 
The decision should provide a key for the comprehension of the 
man, but the biographers generalize weakly that “his particular per- 
spective and his sense of tactics told him that he could not line up 
with the others.” 9 To suggest that as a shallow, tactically driven 
opportunist he could not allow his movement to be submerged in a 
government front of bourgeois Liberals, Marxists, and nationalists 
drifts away from comprehension of Hitler. Based on his worldview, 
he had determined probably by the turn of 1920 that a “basic reck- 
oning with Marxism” and believed that “such a reckoning of real 
world-historical import” required its annihilation. 10 In 1923 such a 
vision was vast, impractical, and apolitical. It was vast because 
Marxism in the 1920s was perceived as the inexorably successful 
political and social force in the “White world” and would soon be 
perceived similarly in the Yellow world (China) and Brown world 
(Indonesia), and Hitler was dedicated to taking it head-on, It was 



impractical because the bourgeoisie of the West had proven ineffec- 
tual in combating it, thus leaving Hitler alone to conceptualize and 
execute a successful attack. Jt was apolitical because Marxism, in a 
perversely mixed metaphor, had come to be approached as a new 
religion, and Hitler never varied from his inspired holy mission to 
save the Germans. With the finality of a messenger of fate, Hitler 
would declare that “regardless of what kind of resistance [to the 
French] was decided on, the first requirement was always the elimi- 
nation of the Marxist poison from our national body.” 11 

Hitler would note that the bourgeois republican cabinet of the 
turn of 1923, led by a nonpartisan businessman as chancellor, had 
the opportunity to crush the Marxists in the patriotic furor over the 
French invasion. Hitler would analyze with humor, scorn, and logic 
Cuno’s policy of passive resistance through general strike in the 
Ruhr: “In this great hour Heaven sent the German people a great 

man, Herr von [sic] Cuno A curse for Germany because this 

businessman in politics regarded politics as an economic enter- 
prise.” 12 Hitler argued that Cuno believed the general strike would 
prevent the French from getting Ruhr coal and therefore force them 
to consider the invasion unprofitable and evacuate. With unerring 
logic, Hitler would dictate that “for a strike, of course, the Marxists 
were needed, for it was primarily the workers who would strike,” and 
the result would be the recovery and strengthening of the Commu- 
nists who would bolt the national front at first opportunity. 13 In fact, 
the Communist Partv would increase in Reichstag votes from 
589,500 in June 1920 to 3,693,300 in May 1924 in the aftermath of 
the Ruhr invasion and would launch massive, dangerous, armed 
uprisings that severely taxed the small treaty army and the Freikorps 
to subdue them in the Ruhr, Hamburg, and Saxony. He would sum- 
marize that Cuno’s national front and passive resistance amounted to 
paying the Communists to conduct a strike that would destroy the 
German economy: “An immortal idea, to save the nation by buying 
a general strike” from the internationalists dedicated to the destruc- 
tion of the German nation. 14 



In presenting the events of 1923, the biographers would come 
dangerously close to a more advanced and satisfying interpretation 
of Hitler. One could note, for example, that the Bavarian Reichsheer 
commander, Generalleutnant Otto von Lossow, “had been rather put 
off by Hitler’s eccentric manner” in a pivotal audience with him at 
the beginning of the extended crisis of 1923. 15 The word eccentric fits 
Hitler well, suggests strangeness and irregularity in his personality, 
and indicates that Lossow detected something beyond politician and 
demagogue. Konrad Heiden, who often showed unmatched insight 
into Hitler, would comment on the earlier Vienna period that “it is 
safe to visualize the young Hitler of those days [1910-1913] going 
about like an eccentric and unkempt saint.” 16 And he would con- 
tinue the theme into the Munich period of 1913-1914 with the char- 
acterization of Hitler as “An eccentric ... a hermit among six hun- 
dred thousand people; without wife, friend, family, or home.” 17 By 
1923 we can see Hitler as a resplendent eccentric with a voice, an 
affection for oratory, and a vision. 

Heiden, as a perceptive contemporary, would describe Hitler as 
personally colorless to the point of invisibility and, in an indelible 
metaphor, suggest that the void had disguised itself as a man. In pre- 
senting Hitler as lamentable personally, Heiden was leading up to 
shock effect as an author because he would abruptly proclaim that 
“in this unlikely looking creature there dwelt a miracle. It was some- 
thing unexpected. . . . His voice was the very epitome of power, firm- 
ness, command, and will. Even when calm, it was a guttural thunder, 
when agitated, it howled like a siren betokening inexorable danger. 
It was the roar of inanimate nature, yet accompanied by flexible 
human overtones of friendliness, rage, or scorn.” All of the following 
great biographers would expatiate on Hitler’s pitiable appearance 
and alleged human emptiness, but Heiden would pull together the 
banality with more zest, strength, and comprehension than all the 
others: “long reaches of his soul are insignificant, colored by no 
noteworthy qualities of intellect or will; but there are corners super- 
charged with strength.” 18 And Heiden would place Hitler in histor- 



ical context probably more realistically than any biographer with the 
words that “as a human figure, lamentable; as a political mind, one of 
the most tremendous phenomena of. . . world history — this is a con- 
tradiction which occurs in every man of genius, from the stuttering 
Moses to Bonaparte, the strange unglamorous artillery captain; but 
few of these historical figures united so many contradictions, such 
lack of distinction, and such super-human strength.” 19 

* * * 

Historians of the period and the great biographers take the position 
that there is no single explanation for Hitler and suggest further that 
we may never have one, whether simple or complex. The position is 
surprising because every great biographer and notable historian to 
the present has taken the position that Hitler was evil and dedicated 
to villainy, a homogeneous rendering of a man supposedly so diffi- 
cult to explain. The conventional wisdom may be flawed, but it is not 
overly complex. The biographers and historians introduce complex- 
ity by agonizing over the causes of the Nazi revolution and the 
forces that produced the man who created it. It is natural, therefore, 
for the wisdom to maintain that there is no single or simple expla- 
nation for Hitler because of the interwoven political, social, and eco- 
nomic conditions ranged about him and the necessity to take 
account of them. We must acknowledge, for example, that the re- 
morseless French enforcement of the Versailles treaty more than 
any other single factor represented the condition necessary for 
Hitler to maintain his radical appeal and support his rise to power. 
But only Adolf Hitler could have achieved the astounding success of 
1919-1933. Hitler was unique, indispensable, and irreplaceable. 

We are therefore less interested in the historical causes of I litler 
than we are in the personality of the man, and by 1923 that person- 
ality should have been in place. Writers have presented an unattrac- 
tive picture of Hitler from the beginning with descriptors such as 
duplicity, lying, hysteria, urge to power, contempt for the masses, 



pathology, and so on. These descriptors apply — although in varying 
degrees and as affected by historical context. In the case of power, 
for example, writers suggest a manic urge in Hitler to dominate all 
others, and Professor Ian Kershaw even extends this urge, only half- 
facetiously, to include his dogs. None points out that Hitler had a 
hyper-radical vision of a future Germany known only to him in its 
proportionless breadth, and since it was based on personal inspira- 
tion would hardly allow for committee debate and democratic whim 
of the rank and file. The conventional wisdom suggests a tyrant with 
a psychopathic urge to power, although we can equally sense a tri- 
bune of the people and savior of a nation. There is little balance in 
the existing consensus, but it has been imbued in the mind of the 
public, and how is it possible to establish something more realistic 
and illuminating? 

We have the words of some remarkably articulate followers. 
Kurt Ludecke experienced submission to Hitler’s will and its appar- 
ently political embodiment in the Nazi movement after two 
speeches in one day in August 1922. In the first, on a bright summer 
afternoon out of doors in the Koenigsplatz in Munich before “well 
over a hundred thousand” in a mixed patriotic and Nazi audience, he 
could comment that Hitler’s “appeal to German manhood was like a 
call to arms, the gospel he preached a sacred truth. He seemed 
another Luther. I forgot everything but the man; then glancing 
around, I saw that his magnetism was holding these thousands as 
one.” 20 Less well-known, Hitler spoke again that evening, indoors, in 
a tour de force of energy, worship of the spoken word, and a kind of 
holy zeal. In the Zirkus Krone , which was jammed to capacity with 
Hitler’s followers, Ludecke would note that “again his power was 
inescapable, gripping and swaying me as it did every one [of the six 
thousand] within those walls.” 21 The purview of politics is vast, but 
these effects cannot be understood in terms of propaganda and pol- 
itics as carried on by a psychopathic politician. 

The articulate follower could comment that he and Hitler were 
together a good deal and that “out of a thousand trifling incidents” 



he could begin to piece together the puzzling fragments of Hitler’s 
character. 22 He had observed that early in the movement Hitler had 
been surrounded by associates who were, for the most part, simple 
souls from modest homes who knew little of the world beyond their 
own towns. They “were sincere, enthusiastic, loyal, looking upon 

Hitler as not only a genius but [also] an inspired prophet Night 

after night he sat in their homes or in the simpler cafes of Munich 

expounding his doctrines They hung on every word. . . . They 

were his circle of disciples ready to do and die for him.” 23 Similar to 
the picture presented by the mass meetings, this one does not seem 
to add up to an otherwise empty propaganda adept who was prac- 
ticing politics. Yet the great biographers, all of whom are accom- 
plished historians, have buried this Hitler and certainly not come to 
praise him. Ludecke would not relent, however, and continued on to 
describe that “thousands trembled when he spoke and yet — he was 
simply one of them. This in itself seemed miraculous and con- 
tributed to their unreserved acceptance of him as a savior, a new 
Luther, a man embodying all their hopes for Germany and them- 
selves.” 24 Ludecke presented words to characterize Hitler that group 
themselves comfortably: genius, inspired prophet, disciples ready to 
do and die, a new Luther, savior, thousands trembled when he spoke. 
During the same period of time, the great biographers see power 
and “progressive megalomania” in a man who impressed his fol- 
lowers in words such as those above. 25 

Ludecke wrote his memoir in 1935 concerning his earlier asso- 
ciation with Hitler, and it is probable that it would have had a dif- 
ferent cast if written after the horrors of World War II played out. 
Ludecke, however, gives us a view of Hitler less encumbered by 
strained antipathy and more nearly as he actually was in 1922-1936, 
in contrast to any sketch by later writers. The latter have stood 
weighted by a double burden of their moral outrage over the onset, 
outbreak, and selected horrors of World War II and their view of the 
period 1914-1945 as that of the two German wars. As concerns the 
latter, however, it is difficult to escape a feeling that in the event of a 



German victory in World War II the verdict of history would have 
been a period characterized as that of the two French wars. 

In any event, Ludecke would continue with other trifling insights 
involving, for example, Hitler’s saintlike yet relaxed presence with 
the early converts. He could remember how touched he was with the 
interrelationship between Hitler and the goldsmith Gahr, one of his 
devoted followers, a modest, quiet, dignified craftsman with whom 
Hitler had entrusted the execution of his design for a new standard. 
As the two discussed the pattern, “every word, every gesture, however 
reserved showed the admiration and faith that he offered the 
leader.” 26 On yet another day, Ludecke observed Hitler in a visit with 
Oskar Koerner, a little merchant who had given much to the party 
and who would give his life on November 9, 1923. As contrasted with 
Gahr, “Koerner’s temperament was vivacious, quick, and eager, rather 
than reserved; but like Gahr ... he showed that he had accepted Hitler 
as both a brother and leader.” 27 Ludecke observed that Hitler seemed 
at home with both types of men, “These were the people lor whose 
sake he meant to rescue Germany.” 28 And one great biographer 
would comment that he was able to use phrases to his public ol 
almost biblical ring by 1922 and add that, after the uprising of 
November 1923, “he had come back from [fortress detention in] 
Landsberg with a certain messianic aura.” 29 

Probably the best authority for Hitler and propaganda is Hitler 
himself, and here the water runs deep. Dismissed by the great biog- 
raphers as brilliantly fluent but shallow in propaganda, Hitler is 
made to appear brutal in nature and simplistic in his thought 
processes. Hitler would commit acts of brutality paralleled by only 
a few in the twentieth century, but to characterize thereby his pro- 
paganda as dominated by a kind of atavistic simplicity dangerously 
misses the mark. Hitler, with disarming objectivity, presented the 
Marxists and the British as the paragons of propaganda early in the 
twentieth century and used the Marxists in particular to illustrate 
the importance of propaganda for any mass movement. With breath- 
taking simplicity, he would take the measure of Marxism as boring 



but abstractly correct written law joined fortuitously by an organi- 
zation of agitators who would successfully spread the idea by spoken 
word. Impressed by Marxist success in turning theory into a mass 
political movement, Hitler would unabashedly lift Marxist tech- 
niques of political action for execution by National Socialists. Hitler 
saw Marxist political action as conducted by agitators having the 
qualities of psychologists and with the ability to transmit an idea to 
“the broad masses.” 30 Hitler would say that “out of the endless battle 
of words... the new Germany will be born.” 31 His early associate 
and later paladin Ernst Roehm would agonize that “he had nothing 
in his head but his own propaganda.” 32 The conventional wisdom 
would suggest that Hitler characteristically overestimated it. 

In tagging Hitler as a one-sided political figure who relied exces- 
sively on propaganda, the conventional wisdom has underestimated 
Hitler, failed to pull together Nazism, and confounded us in most 
attempts to characterize him. In skilled and succinct analysis in the 
second volume of Mein Kampf and italicized to add insult to injury in 
the neglect of such passages, Hitler would describe the movement as 
it had blossomed between 1919 and 1923 and would reappear in the 
springtime of renewed opportunity from 1929 through 1933. Hitler 
reasoned that in the beginning of a political movement, when there 
were in essence no supporters, “it was less important to rack one’s 
brains over organizational questions [of a practically nonexistent 
party] than to transmit the idea itself to a larger number of people. 
Propaganda had to run far in advance of and provide [the party] 
with the human material to be worked on. 33 

* * * 

If then, by 1924, we can identify Hitler as the German messiah of the 
second half of the second millennium, how can we convince ourselves 
that such an interpretation accepts the historical facts more comfort- 
ably than the less savory explanation of the conventional wisdom? 
The question is, what man left Landsberg? Was he the creature of the 



great biographers — often unbelievable, sometimes sensitively and 
credibly drawn, but never quite pulled together into a satisfying inter- 
pretation? Or did someone else leave, heretofore skirted by the writers 
and only nibbled at interpretively? The great biographers remain pris- 
oners of their historical condition as either victors or repentant losers. 
Perhaps with the two great British biographers, Hitler’s words come 
back from beyond some unknown grave to characterize the limits of 
their approach. If we posit that their biographies are a kind of histor- 
ical propaganda, his own words come to our assistance to tell us what 
we are facing. Hitler could note, for example, in context of the British 
wartime propaganda assignment of war guilt to Germany that “it was 
absolutely wrong [for the Germans] to discuss war guilt from the 
standpoint that Germany alone could not be held responsible for the 
outbreak of the catastrophe; it would have been correct to have put 
every bit of the blame on the shoulders of the enemy, even if this had 
not corresponded to the true facts .” 34 He claimed that “English pro- 
pagandists” understood that the sentiment of the masses does not have 
multiple shadings but rather a positive and a negative; there is no 
halfway. Hitler analyzed that the English and their ruthless, one-sided 
atrocity propaganda “pilloried the German enemy as the sole guilty 
party for the outbreak of the war.” 3 -'’ 

We see the great English biographers paint Hitler in a single, 
nonnegotiable shade of dark. Analogues can be driven only so far, 
however, and even though British propagandists with malice, fore- 
thought, and distance from reality made the Germans entirely 
responsible for the outbreak of World War I, such a rendering does 
not mean that the later British biographers fell prey to the same 
qualifiers in applying dark shading to Hitler. We must suspect, 
nonetheless, that the Hitler projected out of Landsberg and into 
power and infamy by the great biographers would be uniquely 
damned. The damnation would be conditioned by the circumstances 
of the victors’ exaggerated, spurious assignment of blame to the 
defeated Germans for the outbreak of World War I and the less spu- 
rious but still one-sided accounting of the onset of World War II. 



* * 


During his serving of one year, thirty-two days, two hours, and ten 
minutes of his five-year sentence for treason, Hitler had time to take 
the measure of the failed march on Berlin and dictate the first 
volume of Mein Kampf For whatever the reasons, he decided to 
become the sole, unfettered leader of National Socialism and absorb 
rather than cooperate with the other forty-two folkish organizations 
ineffectually fussing among themselves throughout Germany. 36 
During his detention in Munich and Landsberg, Hitler would main- 
tain an olympian detachment from the apparent necessity to hold 
together the NSDAP in particular and the folkish movement in gen- 
eral. The great biographers take Hitler’s “lofty silence” and details 
such as his hastily scribbled note to the ineffectual Alfred Rosenberg 
assigning him the task of keeping together the party as evidence that 
we are dealing with a manic lust to keep the leadership of the party 
in his hands. The conventional view interprets his demand for 
unquestioned leadership of the party in the February 27, 1925, 
meeting to reconstitute it as evidence of a Hitler driven by power. 
This interpretation presents him as an aspiring tyrant although pos- 
sessed of crafty instincts in maneuvering through the numberless 
forces operating in the politics of the fractured nationalist Right. 

The conventional interpretation is not particularly satisfying 
because the man who would be the undisputed head of the NSDAP 
and the remainder of the folkish movement becomes drowned in the 
details of his craftiness. Hitler’s towering sense of mission, which 
was there for the viewing by 1924 and which would be the rationale 
for his demand for unquestioned leadership, would be lost in the 
background noise. Hitler, however, would describe with passionate 
clarity the personality required to consummate the grand vision, and 
this synthesis of the savior and the saved could not be ignored by the 
biographers any more than it could be hidden from his contempo- 
raries. “It was only in Landsberg, wrote Rudolf Hess, that he fully 
grasped the ‘mighty significance’ of Hitler’s personality.” 37 In such a 



situation, the biographers have been forced to become interpretive 
schizophrenics, to experience the disintegration of their interpretive 
personalities into two parts. One would represent Hitler as banality 
and evil and the other would be forced to acknowledge him as vision 
and genius — a human masterpiece of logical finality. But the psy- 
chological tug of war never ceases, and Kershaw at least could admit 
on the one hand that the idea he stood for was not a matter of short- 
term objectives. “It was a ‘mission,’ a ‘vision’ of long term future 
goals . . . but, incorporated into the notion of the ‘heroic’ leader they 
did amount to a dynamic ‘worldview.’” 3 ® With unmatched insight, 
Kershaw would observe that the ideas that comprised the worldview 
were immutable and that the realization of those ideas formed the 
essence of what he understood by power itself .” 39 

But Hitler’s broad visionary ideas are simultaneously ridiculed 
as “few and crude as they were” and “crude, simplistic, barbaric .” 40 
To make these adjectival admonitions, Kershaw had to presume that 
Hitler was practicing politics as a pitiable purveyor of half-digested 
political ideas. Hitler, with his unconstrained vision of Germany, 
cannot be considered to have been purveying political ideas. Were 
Hitler’s Wagnerian heroes Rienzi, Lohengrin, Siegfried, and 
visionary parallels Jesus the Christ, Muhammad, Luther in politics? 
Can we criticize Muhammad as having crude and simplistic ideas 
when Islam can be distilled “simply” into the revelation that there is 
no god but God and one’s life unfolds and completes itself through 
submission to his will? With Hitler, we are dealing with self-induced, 
incredibly clear revelation from a man with intensity and will 
unmatched by any other. In such a picture of Hitler as messiah, it 
becomes difficult to criticize as crude, simplistic, and barbaric his 
revelation of the impending destruction of the Germans. Messiahs 
are messengers, and their messages must be clear, simple, and more 
in tune with practical reality than the short-term programs of con- 
ventional politicians. Clear and simple need not translate into crude 
and simplistic; Christianity is rarely criticized in the latter sense and 
yet the central tenet is simplicity itself: believe in the messiah’s mes- 



sage and achieve life eternal, an act of faith on the part of a believer. 
Hitler could scarcely have made it more clear than it was his inten- 
tion to make new Germans who could be exemplified as true 
believers in a German community. 

We cannot be surprised, therefore, that on February 27, a man 
readily conceptualized as a German messiah arrived at a long- 
anticipated meeting of ardent followers and announced his coming 
in terms that few could misunderstand. The price of the resurrec- 
tion of his politically dead followers would be submission to the 
doctrine of political infallibility on the part of the leader. There was 
the possibility of a great reductio ad absurdum in all of this because, 
with seriousness that few could muster, he would make it clear that 
if not one man would follow him, he would reform the party by him- 
self and apparently conquer Germany alone if necessary. These are 
not the words of a man in process of fastening a Fuehrer myth onto 
Germany. These are the words of a deadly earnest leader. He came 
out of the front as if out of the desert — haltingly at first, buffeted by 
chance, but unerringly through fate to proclaim his arrival in Feb- 
ruary 1925. 

But since no messiah or prophet has come out of a desert for the 
last millennium and one-half, it is not surprising that the conven- 
tional wisdom should chalk off Hitler in Landsberg as “surrounded 
by sycophants and devotees, foremost among them the fawning 
Hess.” 41 And to brand Hess as “fawning” — courting favor by 
cringing demeanor and implying servile flattery — does not fit Hess. 
“This flying, shooting, leaflet-distributing student, mathematician 
and later geographer embodied in his longing and his attitude the 
intellectual who is becoming the new ruler of our age,” and cannot 
remotely be seen as some courtier seeking favor through becoming 
chief exponent of a Fuehrer myth. 42 Hess can be seen more realis- 
tically to have been the first to detect the presence of the German 
messiah, although the presence was obscured by the style of modern 
times and the messiah personified as the leader. Hess can be seen 
most accurately as fueling the accomplished fact of the infallible 



leader and not as attempting to create a myth as a crutch to support 
the image of one. And Hitler hardly comes off convincingly as a 
manufactured legend. He had an extraordinary sense of dramatic 
effect based on some natural instinct that had led him into the wor- 
ship of the visual effects and heroic plots of Wagner’s grand opera 
and an accompanying sense of being reserved for something 
special— Thomas Mann’s accusation of “mental arrogance which 
thinks itself too good for any sensible and honorable activity, on the 
grounds of its vague intuition that it is reserved for something 
else.” 43 By age fifteen, with his developing affair with Wagner’s 
opera, his soaring architectural visions, his rejection of bourgeois 
form and function, and his impressionable Germanism, Hitler can be 
seen not so much as a fashionable, young rebel without a cause as a 
unique messiah waiting to happen. 

The conventional wisdom sees in Hitler’s trial and detention the 
development of egomania and megalomania and drive for exclusive 
personal control over the party in its rebirth. The great biographers 
see Hitler as afflicted by a kind of folie de grandeur based on an 
inwardly consolidated perception of himself as the leader of 
National Socialism after the 1924 treason trial. 44 They represent 
Hitler as continuing in the self-conscious, strained way of “a narcis- 
sistic egomaniac” to craft an image of himself in terms of the myth 
of the Fuehrer. 45 And based on such negatively inspired psycholog- 
ical analysis, the biographers project Hitler from 1919 through Feb- 
ruary 1925 into a resulting grab for domination in the refounding of 
the party. Yet Hitler presented a picture of agonizing over his course 
of action in entering “politics” in late 1919 and represented it as 
taking a path from which there could be no turning back. We see a 
millennial study in seriousness who claimed that, when presented 
with opportunity, embarked on a holy mission to save Germany. 46 
Hitler would illustrate in his own person the apolitical intensity of 
the mission that unfolded along the one-way street to historical 
immortality by threatening at several junctures to end it all in three 
minutes with a bullet if he failed. It is difficult to imagine any con- 



temporary German politician or statesman, even with the broad out- 
look of a Gustav Strcsemann or Walter Rathenau, as suggesting that 
if his programs miscarried, he would end his life with a bullet. 

Hitler set out rather like a little German monk one-half millen- 
nium earlier on a long road in contrast to any conceivable aspiring 
party chieftain on a more constrained career path in politics. The fol- 
lowing words, although dictated retrospectively, represent the intense 
renaissance adolescent, the failed artist bohemian, and the brooding 
prince of the trenches, and seem to project the boy and the young man 
out of a no-account existence into a great decision. “The longer I tried 
to think it over, the more the conviction grew in me that through just 
such a little movement the rise of the nation could some day be orga- 
nized.” 47 The most intense public figure of the twentieth century tells 
us so. And what a mix of psychological colors we have! We are pre- 
sented with towering, high-strung seriousness counterbalanced by 
bedrock psychological stability not conventionally associated with 
Hitler. No biographer has commented on the psychological balance 
that Hitler required to endure combat in the forefront of the 1914 
Schlieffen and the 1918 Ludendorff offensives of the German field 
armies and in the defensive battering and almost inconceivable vio- 
lence at the receiving end of the Allied ammunition-rich artillery 
drum fire of the Somme in 1916 and 1917. The medical phenomenon 
of shell shock appeared in World War 1, and Hitler, who has been 
described as an unstable hysteric, proved impervious to it. He seems 
also to have been unaffected by the more recently discovered post- 
traumatic stress disorder. The inconsequential social hermit who came 
out of the dugout caves of the fire-swept desert of the western front 
combined qualities of outrage, vision, mission, rhetoric, and will, 
which translated into the seizure of the party in February 1925. 

Hitler would muse in Mein Kampf'm the third person singular 
that he combined other qualities as well. He would suggest that the 
great leader would more readily be an agitator than a theoretician 
and elaborated that “an agitator who demonstrates the ability to 
transmit an idea to the broad masses must always be a psychologist, 



even if he were only a demagogue.” 48 As the agitator without equal 
among the Nazis and as based on the words above, Hitler evidently 
considered himself to be a mass psychologist. Hitler also seems to 
have been familiar with the word demagogue and its negative conno- 
tation and evidently did not consider himself to be one. Because 
Hitler did not consider himself to be a demagogue does not mean 
that he was not one, but it suggests at least that he believed he was 
operating on some different and presumably higher plane. 

Within the context of presenting the frailties of the written 
word, he would analyze that a speaker, if he were a brilliant, popular 
orator and suspected that the members of his audience did “not 
seem convinced of the soundness of his argument repeat it over and 
over in constantly new examples.” 49 Similarly to his brilliant, pop- 
ular orator, Hitler would repeat the themes of the genius, hero, 
prophet, and resulting revelational idea of the Nazi movement 
rather than any revolutionary political idea. Hitler would present 
himself repeatedly from a variety of directions from embodiment of 
the white-marble, distant vision of an ideal Germany through per- 
sonification as the dark destructor of Marxism. The great biogra- 
phers would see in the picture presented by Hitler in Mein Kampf 
and the attitude affected by him, particularly from February 1925 
onward, unparalleled heights of egomania and megalomania. “He 
owns no ties outside his own ego — He is in the privileged position 
of one who loves nothing and no one but himself. . . so he can dare 
all to preserve or magnify his power.” 50 

Such an interpretation also supports the action that Hitler took 
to establish unconditional leadership of the movement in 1925, but 
it does so with little credible context. Stripped to its essentials, the 
interpretation demands that an uneducated youngster with delu- 
sions of being a great painter became psychologically embittered by 
rejection as an academic artist, discovered the Jews and Marxists, 
became filled with hate for both, linked them with Germany’s mis- 
fortune, and decided to take over Munich, Bavaria, Germany, 
Europe, and yes, of course, the world. "Whereas the most intense of 



all adolescents marveled at Wagnerian Nordic heroes, discovered 
that their Germanic world was under assault by Jewish-inspired 
Marxists, suffered his duty to defend that world in a devastating war, 
and then dedicated his miserable and outraged existence to 
retrieving Germany’s misfortune. We are asked to believe that this 
was all driven by self-love and a craving for power. We are asked to 
imagine in this scene of Germany’s misfortune that Hitler be heard 
to exclaim: I could not have loved Germany so much had I not loved 
myself more. 

* * * 

Later, in 1925, Hitler would make the decision as unconditional 
leader of the Nazi movement to come to power by legal means, and 
this original decision helps to sort out the question of who Hitler 
was and place him in historical context. The president of the 
republic, the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert, died on February 28, 
1925, and his death forced elections for a successor. In the first elec- 
tion in March, fateful chance intervened to give none of the five can- 
didates a majority of the vote and to force a second election for April 
26 — in which a plurality would be sufficient to gain the presidency. 
The parties of the Right prevailed on Field Marshal Paul von Hin- 
denburg to run for office in the second election, and his victory gave 
the economically recovering republic well nigh-unassailable sta- 
bility. No man on the nationalist right in Germany could match the 
bona fides of Hindenburg as a German hero, and his patriotic pres- 
ence, combined with the unreserved backing of the army, added 
almost magical strength in support of the republic. Perhaps the most 
revealing words uttered by Hitler during the Putsch were those 
shortly following the armed engagement at the Odeonsplatz when he 
asked who had fired on the Nazi column, the police or the army. 
Through almost incredibly good fortune for Hitler and the Nazis, 
the armed men who barred the way to the square were state police — 
the despicable “green mice” — and not soldiers, the untouchable 



symbol of the German nation. It is unlikely that Hitler and the Nazi 
movement could have recovered from the ignominious taint of 
being shot down by field gray-clad riflemen of the regular army. The 
integrity of Hitler’s vision of a “German state of the German 
nation” lay in the identification of the Nazi movement with the 
mortar of the German nation — the army — the school of the nation 
and the defender of the faith. 

Other notable contemporary Germans had recognized the 
truism that a continental state like Germany depended for its exis- 
tence on the army to a degree so great that the integrity of the army 
was more important than support of transitory parliamentary-style 
governments. Hans von Seeckt, chief of army troop office in early 
1920, could comment laconically when deciding to use force against 
insurgent, uniformed Freikorps forces: “Troops don’t fire on troops.” 51 
Seeckt saw the German state, in contradistinction to any German 
government, as embodied in the army. From so fundamentally 
argued a viewpoint, the act of troops firing on troops would signal 
the destruction of the state itself. It would plunge the Germans into 
a long, dark civil war with an unfathomable but probably destructive 
outcome. Hitler, with his distant vision of an ideal German state, 
confronted a similar reality that his Nazis could never fire on 
German troops. 

Hitler would react to this apparently hopeless situation so effec- 
tively in the long run, from 1925 through 1933, that his doctrines of 
infallibility and legality would eventually give him control of the 
German government. But given the trauma that Hitler suffered in 
the Putsch aftermath, it remains a monument to his irrepressibility 
that he succeeded. Not surprisingly, the great biographer John 
Toland, whose work on Hitler has no thesis and therefore suffers 
least from interpretive bias, gives us the most convincing account of 
the physical and psychological trauma suffered by Hitler in 1923 and 
1924 . The other great biographers, gripped by their interpretive pre- 
conceptions of Hitler as evil without redeeming quality, slant their 
description to fit that picture, leaving the thoughtful reader to 



wonder how any German could have believed in Hitler at all. Fest, 
for example, would generalize about Hitler’s behavior in the skir- 
mish at the Odeonsplatz that “the reports of his followers are contra- 
dictory only in small details: they agree that even while the situation 
was still fluid, he scrambled up from the pavement and took to his 
heels leaving behind him the dead and wounded.” Hitler then took 
refuge in Hanfstaengl’s country house about thirty-five miles from 
Munich “and nursed the painful sprained shoulder he had suffered 
in the course of the battle .” 52 

The biographer does not tell us that Hitler was close to the front 
of the Nazi column, marching arm-in-arm with Max Erwin von 
Scheubner-Richter, who was hit and killed by the first police volley. 
The mortally wounded Scheubner-Richter collapsed, pulling Hitler 
down. Roughly simultaneously, Ulrich Graf, Hitler’s personal body- 
guard, in an act of magnificent faithfulness, threw himself in front of 
Hitler and was hit by at least six bullets while shielding him. We can 
assume that some or possibly all of the numerous bullets in Graf 
otherwise would have been in or through Hitler, and we would have 
to suggest to ourselves an alternate future for Europe. The most 
interest that the latest great biographer can generate from this scene 
is to philosophize that “had the bullet which killed Scheubner- 
Richter been a foot to the right history would have taken a different 
course .” 53 Graf is not mentioned. Graf’s formidable act of self- 
sacrifice for his leader and the presence of yet another brush with 
death by Hitler suggest that we are dealing with someone capable of 
earning loyalty unto death from disciples rather than an egomaniacal 

The comment that established Hitler as having come out of the 
fray with a “painful sprained shoulder” demands scrutiny also. Dr. 
Walter Schultze, the staff physician to the Munich Sturmabteilung 
(SA) regiment, observed I Iitler getting up off the pavement after the 
brief twenty seconds of the firefight “apparently injured in the 
shoulder” and moving to the rear . 54 Schultze considered Hitler to be 
wounded and brought him to one of the SA automobiles (qua ambu- 



lances) located nearby. On Hitler’s instructions, he attempted to 
return to the Burgerbraeukeller but their vehicle was fired on twice 
during the attempt and he decided to get Hitler out of Munich and 
treat him elsewhere. Ten miles south of the city, Hitler announced 
that he must have been shot in the left arm, and Schultze and the aid 
man in the vehicle undressed him to find that at least the left 
shoulder had been “severely dislocated.” 55 Chance and Hitler’s 
memory brought the group to Uffing, thirty-five miles south of 
Munich and Hanfstaengl’s country villa where Schultze and the aid 
man needed two attempts to set the dislocated shoulder because of 
massive swelling. And to add psychological insult to the physical 
injury, two days later, on November 11, 1923, as state police arrest 
seemed imminent, Hitler would threaten suicide with a handgun 
described as a revolver. He was dissuaded, however, by some combi- 
nation of second thoughts and the intervention of the attractive and 
firm lady of the house, Helene Hanfstaengl. 

After his arraignment in Munich, the police delivered Hitler to 
Landsberg prison about forty miles west of Munich and into cell 
seven of the prison’s fortress section. Hitler continued to be in 
excruciating pain, and the prison physician, Dr. Brinsteiner, discov- 
ered that he suffered not only a dislocation of the left shoulder but 
also a break in the upper left arm, “and as a result a very painful trau- 
matic neurosis,” or nervous collapse resulting from the extended 
physical exhaustion and pain. 56 Dr. Brinsteiner opined that Hitler 
would “most likely suffer permanently a partial rigidity and pain in 
the left shoulder.” 57 Added to all of this, a despondent Hitler would 
attempt suicide by starvation during the first weeks in the fortress, 
and when Anton Drexler visited him, he found an emaciated Hitler 
“sitting like a frozen thing at the barred window of his cell.” Brin- 
steiner warned Drexler that the prisoner would die if the fast con- 
tinued. 58 We have come a long way from a Hitler with a sprained 
shoulder taking to his heels and, what appears to be more realisti- 
cally, a severely injured Hitler being assisted rearward to a makeshift 
ambulance by a combat surgeon. Similarly styled denigration of 



Hitler by the great biographers throughout his life accumulates and 
tends to deflect us from the irrepressibility of Hitler the man and his 
not- human determination to save the Germans. It is difficult if not 
impossible to imagine the sordid creature of the biographers 
rebounding from the trauma of November 1923. 

Hans Ehard, an assistant prosecutor from Munich, arrived early 
in the morning on November 12, 1923, to interrogate the prisoner. 
At first Hitler refused to give a statement, but when Ehard dismissed 
the accompanying stenographer and ostensibly off-the-record asked 
for Hitler’s views on the German situation, Hitler spoke. “On this 
day his supply of sentences was truly inexhaustible: not stopping to 
eat, never going to the bathroom, Hitler spoke from early morning 
until early evening,” for approximately twelve hours. 59 Kubizek 
could recall Hitler in 1908 working “feverishly” on his Wolf Lake 
grand opera project and, in eerily similar words, present a picture 
that “when a self imposed task engrossed him completely ... it was as 
though a demon had taken possession of him. Oblivious to his sur- 
roundings, he never tired, he never slept. He ate nothing, he hardly 
drank.” 60 And in 1923, Hitler would persevere in a similar self- 
imposed task and apply his talents to the salvation of the Germans. 

The biographers, including the great, insightful, pedestrian, and 
superficial, have commented on Hitler in prophetic or similarly half- 
mystical terms. Hitler as his own biographer demanded that the 
young movement “from the first day” put forward its idea spiritually 
and noted in his prophetic style and within the context of the battle 
against Marxism that “it is an eternal experience of world history 
that a terror represented by a philosophy of life [Marxism] can 
never be broken by a formal state power, but at all times can be 
defeated only by another new philosophy of life [National 
Socialism] proceeding with the same boldness and determination.” 61 
These words are not those of a historical figure who can be inter- 
preted as having been manufactured into “the leader” by a latter-day 
propaganda ministry or his own affectation of a stern face. And 
although we do not see the white flowing robes derigueur for the ear- 



lier great Messiah and the parched landscape background, we detect 
a modern savior. Both Kershaw, as Hitler’s most recent great biogra- 
pher, and Heiden, as an earlier articulate and a personal observer, 
agree on his elevated charisma. Kershaw could claim that “Hitler’s 
entire being came to be subsumed within the role he played to per- 
fection: the role of ‘Fuehrer.’” 62 Heiden could physically observe 
that “the image of the great man always hovers like a model and 
catchword before his inner eye. He always tries to act as in his 
opinion the image would act.” 63 But in the entire period of 1919 
through the trial of 1924, we see Hitler as the embodiment of the 
spoken word — a fiery, passionate orator requiring no party apparatus 
to tout him as the premier figure of the German folkish movement. 

* * *■ 

The conventional wisdom has characterized Hitler as the great sim- 
plifier, and he possessed a unique facility for reducing complex his- 
torical issues to manageable proportions. He would take the measure 
of the entire Pan-German and Christian Social movements in Aus- 
tria, for example, in an almost incredibly brief analysis that illustrated 
his grasp of the overall historical picture: The Pan-German move- 
ment was right in its theoretical view about having the aim of a 
German reawakening but unfortunate in its choice of methods to 
accomplish it. The Christian Social movement erred in not having 
the aim of a German reawakening but had intelligence, luck, and 
resulting success in its methods as a party. 64 And he would note that 
the Pan-Germans with the political program of the Christian Social- 
ists, or the latter with the correct view of the importance of the 
Jewish Marxist question, “would have resulted in a movement even 
then in my opinion which might have successfully intervened in 
German destiny.” 65 There is a boldness, simplicity, and finality in 
such analysis that does not seem to be motivated by the personal frus- 
tration and hate that the conventional wisdom has assigned to Hitler. 

During the entire period, Hitler could be seen as expounding a 



new “philosophy of life” and developing and using the Nazi party as 
a means to an end of realizing a philosophy He would note emphat- 
ically (italicized in Mein Kampfi that “ political parties are inclined to com- 
promise; philosophies never. Political parties even reckon with opponents; 
philosophies proclaim their infallibility ,” 66 From Hitler’s own words, we 
can comprehend his movement as infallible, uncompromising phi- 
losophy disguised as political party doctrine. And Hitler’s successful 
seizure of the leadership of the Nazi party in 1925 can be under- 
stood in terms, also of his own words (stated obliquely in the third 
person): “It is not necessary that every individual fighting for this 
philosophy should obtain a full insight and precise knowledge of the 
ultimate ideas and thought processes of the leaders of the move- 
ment. What is necessary is that some few, really great ideas be made 
clear to him and that the essential fundamental lines be burned inex- 
tinguishably into him.” 67 By early 1925, Hitler had become the orig- 
inator of an infallible historical philosophy and had announced that 
an infallible philosophy must be led by an infallible leader. 

The great biographers nevertheless interpret Hitler as tyrant 
and egomaniac although they note the presence of some messianic 
quality that seemed to surround him in the 1920s, appearing and dis- 
appearing according to circumstance. Kershaw could generalize, for 
example, that in the wake of the trial of early 1924, “[Hitler] began 
to see himself, as his followers had begun to portray him from the 
end of 1922 onwards, as Germany’s savior.” 68 With perceptive 
insight into 1 litler and on the verge of breaking the code of expla- 
nation for the man, Kershaw would claim that “his almost mystical 
faith in himself as walking with destiny, with a ‘mission’ to rescue 
Germany, dates from this time.” 69 Apparently, others besides Nazis 
cast Hitler in the light of savior-hero; for an earlier biographer, 
Toland could note how he w r as buoyed in detention by a copy of the 
satirical weekly Simplissimus which had on its front page a cartoon 
showing Hitler in armor entering Berlin on a white horse as if he 
were Sir Galahad. 70 Biographer Fest w'ould argue that by the end of 
the Munich trial he “boldly came forth as the divinely appointed and 



only Fuehrer” and earlier had already developed “delusions of 
grandeur, his ‘messiah’ complex.” 71 

Bullock, as the first of the great biographers, however, would 
interpret Hitler as “a study in tyranny” and would relate the quality 
of tyranny with Hitler’s will to power and ambition. In a modest two 
sentences within the context of describing Hitler as a dictator, Bul- 
lock summarized the conventional view of him that predominates to 
the present: 

To say that Hitler was ambitious scarcely describes the intensity of 
the lust for power and the craving to dominate which consumed 
him. It was the will to power in its crudest form, not identifying 
itself with the triumph of a principle as with Lenin or Robespierre 
— for the only principle of Nazism was power and domination for 
its own sake. 72 

This one-sided historical verdict has a ring of propaganda about 
it — similar to the tone of British propaganda in World War 1 in which 
Germany was represented as exclusively responsible for the outbreak 
of war. Hitler as master propagandist and mass psychologist would 
extol the virtuosity of the British in the conduct of wartime propa- 
ganda and their conformance with the “first axiom of all propagandist 
activity to wit the basically subjective and one-sided attitude it must 
take toward every question it deals with.” 73 British wartime propagan- 
dists loaded all of the blame for the outbreak of World War I on the 
shoulders of Germany. More recent peacetime historians have simi- 
larly heaped exclusive blame on 1 litler for the outbreak of World War 
11, although, of course, this does not prove that the historians have 
been conducting propaganda. Such a situation suggests, however, that 
the biographers have looked upon Hitler as an enemy to be attacked 
and scarcely as a credible object for biography. 

It is a supreme irony — a result opposite to that which was 
intended — that Bullock, who gave us the first great interpretation of 
Hitler that has remained unchallenged, should have presented un- 
intended the most coherent picture of who Hitler thought he was. 



Calling on the early-nineteenth-century German philosopher 
Georg W. K. Hegel, Bullock would point out the concept of world- 
historical individuals as the agents by which the plan of Providence 
is carried out. Hegel would conceptualize in his lectures at the Uni- 
versity of Berlin, where he occupied a professorial chair from 1818 
through 1831, the phenomenon of the world-historical man and a 
theory of the unfolding of history in terms of his passion and will. 
Such men “are great men, because they willed and accomplished 
something great; not a mere fancy, a mere intention, but that which 
met the case and fell in with the needs of an age.” 74 For the moral 
objections of how men such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, 
and Napoleon could be considered great in view of the monstrous 
carnage associated with them, Hegel could at least attempt to 
smooth ruffled feathers by noting that so mighty a form must neces- 
sarily trample down many an innocent flower and crush to pieces 
many an object in its path. For Hegel, the morality associated with 
individuals and the laws associated with societies were irrelevant for 
purposes of criticizing the actions of the world-historical individual. 

He would philosophize that the comprehensive relations of his- 
tory present “those momentous collisions between existing acknowl- 
edged duties, laws, and rights and those contingencies which are 
adverse to this fixed system; which assail and even destroy its foun- 
dations and existence.” 75 Those contingencies realize themselves in 
history and involve a general principle different from that on which 
the permanence of an already existing state depends. “Historical 
men — world-historical individuals — are those in whose aims such a 
general principle lies.” 76 We can imagine Nazism as a contingency 
that represented a principle different from that which underlay the 
existing Weimar system. And we can similarly see Hitler as a world- 
historical personality in whose aims lay the idea of Nazism. Hitler, of 
course, could hardly have paraded himself by Germans and Euro- 
peans as Hegel’s world spirit, but he would come off convincingly to 
Germans as a savior. And he could be interpreted as a world- 
historical personality dressed for the occasion as a messiah. 



The conventional wisdom in interpreting Hitler as crude 
unperson would seem to be describing an outer shell surrounding 
him. Hitler’s biographers, both great and otherwise, have elaborated 
Hitler’s various peculiarities as they applied to him as a private 
person. With preconceptions of Hitler’s banality and in order to 
emphasize his common and unredeeming qualities, they have 
emphasized his ability to relax among his chauffeurs, bodyguards, 
and adjutants, to enjoy insipid light opera, and so on. Such emphasis 
on off-duty relaxation detracts dangerously from comprehension of 
the world-historical “supercharged corners in various parts of his 
personality.” In the presence of a man who has reasonable claim to 
have been a world-historical personality — the hero in history — the 
biographers steer us away from understanding the qualities that 
made him lift the world off its hinges and bombard us with his per- 
sonal commonness. “No man is a hero to his valet-de-chambre” is a 
well-known proverb, and the biographical valets of Hitler handle 
him similarly. Hegel, however, added to the well-known proverb the 
words “but not because the hero is not a hero, but because the latter 
is a valet.” 77 

We must suspect that the biographical valets have brought Hitler 
down to their level of contempt for him; although he must remain 
great in history based upon achievement. Hitler’s greatness was his 
passion in the pursuit of his mission, and the banality of the man in 
certain personal features remains a red herring in the path of com- 
prehending that passion. Hegel could assert that nothing has been 
accomplished without interest on the part of the great catalysts in 
history and “if interest be called passion, inasmuch as the whole 
individuality, to the neglect of all other actual or possible interests 
and claims, is devoted to an object with every fiber of volition, con- 
centrating all its desires and powers upon it — we may affirm 
absolutely that nothing great in the world has been accomplished 
without passion.” 78 Hitler was passion incarnate. During the period 
1919-1933 he was consumed by his self-anointed mission to seize 
power in order to save the Germans from the Marxists. “A world- 



historical individual is not so unwise as to indulge in a variety of 
wishes to divide his interests. He is devoted to the one aim, regard- 
less of all else.” 79 The great interpretive question in the case of 
Hitler would seem to be whether or not his single-minded passion 
was directed by a morbid craving for power, as demanded by the 
great biographers, or a somewhat loftier craving for the salvation of 
the Germans. In either interpretation, Hitler would seem to fit as a 
world-historical individual, but the paths to historical immortality 
would have been as different as the darkness of power and the light 
of salvation. 

For Hitler to have seized power over the party in 1925, power 
over Germany in 1934, and near-power over Europe in August 1941 
based exclusively on an insatiable urge to dominate all things and 
every man around him strains our credulity. The conventional 
wisdom, for example, in alleging this drive for power gives as its 
proof the fact that he did that which resulted in power. Faced with 
Hitler’s determined propagandizing about the resurrection of Ger- 
many, however, that wisdom has acknowledged that he was a con- 
vinced ideologue and actually believed his own tenets of Nazism: 
“All consuming though power was for Hitler, it was not a matter of 
power for its own sake ... he was also an ideologue of unshakeable 
convictions.” 80 Here we face the great contradiction in the existing 
interpretation, or perhaps more accurately, uninterpretation of 
Hitler: the uncertain confrontation between the historical figure 
consumed exclusively by lust for power and the same historical 
figure consumed exclusively by unshakeable convictions. 

In the former case we have a wicked man, an interpretation that 
must remain a comfort to the great biographers and reading public 
alike. In the latter case we have an individual who could be described 
variously as a fanatic, patriot, savior, visionary, and so on, none of 
whom would necessarily qualify as evil or engaged in evil deeds. 
Kershaw partly escaped the contradiction by suggesting that Hitler’s 
worldview was so repellent that Hitler’s acknowledged sense of mis- 
sion was morally defunct. And Kershaw simply lived with the con- 



tradiction by noting that Hitler was dedicated entirely to the pursuit 
of power while simultaneously maintaining that “cynical though he 
was, Hitler’s cynicism stopped short of his own person; he came to 
believe that he was a man with a mission marked out by Providence 
and therefore exempt from the ordinary canons of human con- 
duct.” 81 And if Hegel had been available to discuss the contradiction 
with the biographers and had decided that based on Hitler’s accom- 
plishments he embodied world-historical change, Hegel would have 
rejected their moralizing as irrelevant to the comprehension of 
Hitler and of the course of history. 

* * *■ 

With Hitler in one prison or another from November 1923 through 
December 1924 and the economic stabilization of the Weimar 
Republic during the same period, he and the NSDAP hit on hard 
times in the quest for power from 1925 through 1929. In the Reich- 
stag elections of May 20, 1928, the Nazis would bottom out at 
810,100 votes and twelve deputies, and these numbers are often used 
to generalize about the misfortune of the movement. The Nazis gar- 
nered only twelve seats out of a total of 491, and that number qual- 
ifies as a disaster and supports a generalization that they had become 
impotent in German politics, let alone any other kinds of politics in 
Europe by 1928. Yet, in a seldom-made observation, we could see 
that the Nazis got 810,100 Germans to vote for them. Since it would 
be difficult to suggest any bandwagon effect for the Nazis in 1 928, we 
could observe that Hitler had managed to hold on to a number of 
followers who, in turn, could be described as genuine Nazis. The 
number is large enough to suggest that if conditions were to improve 
after 1928, that the Nazis would have a cadre capable of levering 
them into power. 

The situation becomes more accurately rendered, however, 
when we consider that Hitler conceptualized his followers as sup- 
porters of the movement on one hand and active fighters on the 



other. Hitler believed that his followers could be subdivided into 
about 85 percent supporters and 1 5 percent fighters — ”to ten sup- 
porters there will at most be one or two [fighters]”— the latter who 
could perhaps be qualified as the real Nazis. 82 Those Nazis would be 
the core of the movement, and as the party expanded after 1928, 
they would be the ones to “complete the victory of the original 
idea.” 83 We can generalize therefore that Hitler and an elite band of 
about 120,000 fighters for the faith that had clustered around him 
went on during the next five years to attract so large an additional 
number of supporters, fighters, and opportunists that the original 
band and latter-day followers took over a great modern state. 

It is difficult to believe that the creature of the great biographers 
could have refused to participate in the battles among the various 
factions over control of the shambles of the banned NSDAP and 
could have formally resigned from leadership of the party. How 
could the conventionally cast tyrant resist the obvious necessity to 
maintain his power? The conventional wisdom would maintain that 
Hitler, with canny, wicked genius, would remove himself from the 
factional struggle and thereby deliberately set the various factions 
fighting among themselves. Such an interpretation is natural for hos- 
tile biographers and satisfying to a reading public that expects 
wicked genius, but it weakens in the face of the situation and Hitler’s 
personality. Hitler announced simply that he was unable to run the 
movement from inside a prison cell in a fortress. Here we see the 
biographers transform the obvious and the practical into a malicious 
strategy to hold on to power when the simplest interpretation is the 
best: Hitler meant what he said. It must be evident that Hitler faced 
the practical impossibility of effectively controlling a shattered 
movement under such circumstances. 

A messiah cannot take sides in a struggle among his disciples 
because there can be no sides in the case of his message. Disciples 
cannot argue with the messiah about the content of the message. 
Can we imagine Muhammad’s tribal followers debating his word as 
God’s messenger? Weimar Germany was a different place from the 



Arabian Desert of the 600s, but Hitler can be seen as one who had 
synthesized a worldview by 191 3 that he translated into a message of 
German destiny. The messiah announced his arrival in 1925, but the 
biographers see in this announcement the unfolding of the famed 
leadership principle. It is easy to see such a principle arriving, albeit 
dry as dust and contributing to the picture of a man driven by a 
quest for power. Upon momentary reflection, however, we cannot 
see how real Germans would have eiubraced such a political scien- 
tific abstraction. It is not credible that so many Nazis could have 
been fooled by a manipulative tyrant into accepting his total 
authority over their own popular mass movement. Though wisdom 
suggests that you cannot fool all of your followers all of the time, 
Hitler seems to have defied the dictum. Within the spirit of the 
movement, Hitler cannot be seen to have attempted to fool any- 
body — to manipulate in order to accrue power. We see, rather, a will 
to deliver a nonnegotiable message. 

* * 


In the live-or-die initial stage of the expansion of the party from late 
1919 through 1923, Hitler claimed in passages of Mein Kampf ill- 
digested by his biographers that he faced hostile audiences that could 
be converted to the developing Nazi outlook only by supreme effort 
and practiced skill. In vital passages disguised from his biographers as 
being important by such boring subject areas for Hitler biography as 
the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the South Tyrol, Hitler would 
describe the essence of the movement as the conversion of Germans 
— all Germans in every audience, however hostile — to the new 
thinking. Concerning Brest-Litovsk, he could describe “at that time I 
spoke on this theme at meetings of two thousand people, and often I 
was struck by the glances of three thousand six hundred hostile eyes. 
And three hours later I had before me a surging mass full of the holiest 
indignation and boundless wrath. Again a great lie had been torn out 
of the hearts and brains of a crowd numbering thousands, and a truth 



implanted in its place ,” 84 In this case, for Hitler, the lie was the “adroit 
propaganda” of the Marxist and bourgeois parties that had convinced 
“millions of Germans” to regard “the peace treaty of Versailles as 
nothing more than just retribution for the crime committed by us at 
Brest-Litovsk .” 85 In defiance of the picture presented by the conven- 
tional wisdom of Hitler playing on the baser emotions of receptive 
audiences, we see Hitler often reveling in a perilous battle to convert 
hostile Germans to the new thinking. 

Hitler consistently took dangerously unpopular positions in the 
face of popular opinion, including the initial mindset on Brest- 
Litovsk, popular support for passive resistance to the French, and the 
clamor of republican governments over injustice to Germans in 
South Tyrol. He would comment that in such cases that “supreme 
energy was necessary to keep the ship of the movement from 
drifting with the artificially aroused general current or [even] from 
being driven by it .” 86 The dangers to Hitler personally in such situ- 
ations and the possibilities for the ruination of the movement have 
been missed with the conventional interpretation of Hitler. He 
would analyze that to resist capitulation to public opinion it was nec- 
essary “to shake the movement with an iron fist to preserve it from 
ruin” and that such a stand “sometimes puts the venturesome leader 
in almost mortal peril. But not a few men in history have at such 
moments been stoned for an action which posterity . . . had every 
cause to thank them on its knees .” 87 It is difficult to miss the mes- 
sianic tone in such expression, and if such words were not enough he 
could summarize that “in such hours the individual [leader] feels 
afraid; but he must not forget that after every such hour salvation 
comes at length, and that a movement that wants to renew a world 
must serve, not the moment, but the future .” 88 The collection of 
words in these brief dictations — iron fist, mortal peril, men stoned 
for taking an action, posterity, thank them on its knees, the leader 
feels afraid, salvation comes, renew a world — presents a picture of a 
man in another universe of idealistic intensity. 

A cruder part of the conventional wisdom nevertheless has cast 



Hitler as the most common of Germans and hence most capable of 
playing on their most prevalent hopes and fears. In making such a 
claim, the wisdom has desperately confused Hitler’s characteristics 
as a private individual as being the basis for his appeal — the ultimate 
common man reverberates best among the common masses. Hitler, 
however, was scarcely common, and he appealed to many Germans 
as a kind of other-worldly mystic. His intelligent, tough, and inde- 
pendent chief of the SA from 1926 through 1930, Franz Pfeffer von 
Salomon, “took Hitler to be a genius, something the world might 
experience only once in a thousand years.” 89 For a man who had 
face-to-face dealings with Hitler for four years and who suffered an 
eventual falling out, to summarize as such, suggests that Hitler 
reverberated among Germans as an extremely uncommon and irre- 
sistible messenger of glittering hope. Salomon was a no-nonsense 
Prussian who, in an unguarded moment, had referred to Hitler as “a 
flabby Austrian,” yet he could make the estimate of his brilliance 
noted above and do so hardly as a sycophant. 

In the period following his successful demand for uncontested 
leadership of the movement, Hitler created extraordinary cohesive- 
ness among Nazis because of the removal of the usual policy debates 
of a parliamentary party. In May 1928, for example, elections took 
place to the Reichstag, and the most inflammatory issue was the one 
of the forced Italianization of the German minority in South Tyrol, 
an area which had in 1919 been ceded to Italy. The various parlia- 
mentary parties would take the opportunity to appeal to voters’ 
patriotism by taking an exaggerated stand in support of the Germans 
and against the Mussolini government. In defiance of the conven- 
tional wisdom that would demand that Hitler be seen as courting 
followers for a mass movement, he would reject the republican 
policy of support for the Germans of South Tyrol. He would take 
the stand that the existing republican government of November 
Criminals had placed the Germans in so unfortunate a situation. 
The real enemy was the republican government and not Mussolini, 
who was merely riding with an accomplished fact. Hitler revealed 



here an extraordinary adherence to principle, rivaling his refusal five 
years earlier to support parallel November Criminals over passive 
resistance in the Ruhr. The explanation for this political behavior by 
the conventional wisdom is that Hitler could neither allow his move- 
ment to be submerged in the other parties nor accept the reduction 
of his own personal power. We are left thereby with the uncomfort- 
able feeling that we are being asked to believe that Hitler effected 
two unfulfilled political death wishes in fits of pique over lessened 
political power in common fronts and reduced personal power over 
his own movement. 

Hitler’s Marxist foes in Bavaria would make political capital out of 
his refusal to line up patriotically with the other parties against the 
Italian government by claiming that Hitler was being paid by the Ital- 
ians to take his otherwise inexplicable stance. Outraged by the out- 
landish Social Democratic claims, annoyed by the uncritical and 
opportunistic positions of the bourgeois parties, and suspicious of the 
discernment of his own followers, he would actually dictate his 
“second book” to describe the real enemies of the Germans as con- 
cerned South Tyrol. As Hitler got immersed in the book, he extended 
the latter part to include a far-reaching exposition of Nazi foreign 
policy. The point for comprehending Hitler is that based on principle 
he took an unpopular position during a Reichstag election battle. 

In the face of such adherence to principle, Kershaw claims 
nevertheless with one-sided propagandistic certitude that Hitler 
was, at bottom, an actor who played the role of leader to perfection 
and did so for the accretion of power. With contemptuous brevity, 
Kershaw would note that the “firm handshake and ‘manly’ eye to eye 
contact . . . when he had to meet ordinary party members was, for the 
awestruck lowly activist, a moment never to be forgotten. For Hitler 
it was merely acting: it meant no more than the reinforcement of the 
personality cult .” 90 

We could just as readily see him revealing his true nature with a 
kind of fearlessness of the consequences of looking strained to effete 
bourgeois Liberals or see him appearing as if he were attempting to 



upstage tougher Marxists. We could also see the unfailingly deadly, 
uncontrived earnestness of the adolescent of Linz and combat soldier 
of World War I. Was the young Hitler acting out some contrived role 
when he seized the pillar alongside of which was the best standing 
room in the Linz Municipal Opera House? Did Hitler contrive to 
present the image of lofty isolation among his life and death com- 
rades in his frontline infantry regiment? For the biographer, the firm 
handshake and fixed glance are taken as cheap playacting to be 
ridiculed. His choice of the word manly suggests a picture of infantile 
male posturing, and his scarcely disguised hint that Hitler looked 
with distaste on his own rank and file is spun into the interpretation 
with the derogation: “when he had to meet ordinary party members.” 
The word manly, although excellent for the intended humorous dis- 
paragement of Hitler, is ill-suited for comprehension suggesting the 
presence of the unmanly. It is as difficult to accept that Hitler was 
imitating manliness in his encounters with his political troops as it is 
to imagine Siegfried from Wagner’s The Ring feeling that he was being 
manly in his encounters with dragons, giants, and Nordic gods. We 
see a Romantic Hitler, soldierly, fearless, the scourger of temples. We 
see followers faithful unto death but scarcely those who could be ade- 
quately described as manly. 

By 1929, the man who would seize power in 1933 was in place 
and ready for characterization. Since Hitler would be successful, it is 
difficult to resist accepting his own description of himself. Hitler, for 
example, would reply to the anti-Catholic Nazi Artur Dinter, who 
would challenge him openly in late 1929 by proposing an advisory 
senate that “as leader of the National Socialist Movement and as the 
person who possesses the blind faith of somebody belonging to those 
who make history, I have [as a politician] the boldness to claim in 
this sphere the same infallibility that you reserve for yourself in your 
[religious] reformationist area.” 91 And the second most important 
man in National Socialism at this time, the self-confident, indepen- 
dent Gregor Strasser, would support Hitler with the written position 
agreed to by at least eighteen district leaders that any attempt to 



establish even the smallest difference of opinion between Adolf 
Hitler and his fellow workers, in any question of principle, would be 
impossible to tolerate. Hitler cannot be claimed to be padding a cult 
of the Fuehrer with words such as those above but rather presenting 
the reality that he was infallible in the Nazi version of politics and 
the seizure of power in Germany. Gregor Strasser also cannot be 
claimed to be producing a cult but rather running with the necessity 
for a seamless front to be presented to Germans — a brazen cliff of 
unshakeable unity. And, in a grudging admission of Hitler’s emana- 
tion of genius, even the hard-headed Strasser was forced to acknowl- 
edge that “the man has a prophetic talent for reading great political 
problems correctly and doing the right thing at the opportune 
moment despite apparently insuperable difficulties.” 92 

Kershaw is aware of these words but instead of acknowledging 
that Hitler had the talent to match his pretensions to greatness, he 
veers off into forced and sometimes irrelevant disparagement. Faced 
with the words of a high-level, tough-minded political associate who 
defined Hitler’s political genius during the march to internal political 
power and even threw in the word prophetic, he steers us away from a 
full understanding. “Such unusual talent as Strasser was ready to 
grant Hitler lay, however, as he saw it, in instinct rather than any 
ability to systematize ideas.” 93 The biographer’s caveat is strained 
because it suggests that Hitler’s acknowledged political capabilities 
were of an inferior sort tainted by not being based on ability to sys- 
tematize ideas but only on instinct. Neither messiah nor world- 
historical personality conforms to rule, however, and its handmaiden, 
systematized ideas. The word instinct is a synonym for genius, and 
Strasser wittingly, and Kershaw unwittingly, seem to be telling us that 
Hitler’s formidable political capabilities were based simply on genius. 

The fanatically inclined army lieutenant Wilhelm Scheringer 
would recall meeting Hitler in 1930 with this description: “Listening 
to him, 1 had the firm impression that the man believed what he said, 
as simple as his slogans are. He is suspended in his thinking three 
meters above the ground. He doesn’t speak; he preaches.” 94 The 



young Scheringer described himself in the presence of a preacher 
who believed what he was saying and who stood in front of him mys- 
tically levitated. In such a picture we can see the young lieutenant 
confronted by a German messiah but critical of his apparent lack of 
day-to-day political competence, as noted in farther words to the 
effect that Hitler was incapable of clear political analysis, however 
powerful his talent as an agitator. Just like so many others from 
Eckart to Strasser, the lieutenant had observed the visionary, other- 
worldly quality in Hitler illustrated so well in so many photographs 
in which he seemed to look through the photographer and into some 
distant universe. 

We have two Hitlers here; one is the creature of the propaganda- 
like treatment of hostile biographers, and the other one is a hero as 
seen through the eyes of contemporary followers. Each is rendered 
in extreme terms, and it is tempting to suggest a middle ground for 
some more balanced interpretation. But Hitler was one of the most 
determined personalities in mankind’s history, and to labor to find 
some middle ground is to labor to find something that is not there. 
We are left with a cruel interpretive choice between either a bad 
man who did some good or a good man who did some bad. Hegel 
may come to our rescue here by pointing out that moral considera- 
tions of good and bad are irrelevant to a world-historical personality 
because he is in the process of taking an existing world and replacing 
it with a new one. In such a case, the irrelevance is that an old 
morality would be replaced by a new one and the world-historical 
personality would write the history of the era. Whoever Hitler was 
— good, bad, or a man above such consideration — his followers 
accepted him as savior. Axiomatically, he would become that savior 
when he and his followers seized political power in Germany in 1933 
and 1934. 

Chapter 5 



I n 1929 the Nazis would achieve numerous modest successes in 
elections to city councils and state Landtage (parliaments) and 
national exposure on the international issue of the finalization of 
German World War I reparation. As a German agricultural depres- 
sion set in with the collapse of the prices of farm products, the Nazis 
reacted more flexibly and decisively than any other party to seize the 
rural vote. When the great international depression struck as sig- 
naled by the fall of stock prices in August on the New York Stock 
Exchange, Germany was affected more rapidly and deeply than any 
other state. It is difficult to exaggerate the resulting social and eco- 
nomic despair in the various industrialized nations; the United 
States, for example, has claimed to have experienced the greatest 
social misery in its entire history during the Great Depression. Ger- 
many, with its added burden of the loss of World War I, would suffer 
relatively greater trauma. Under these conditions, the multiparty 
system of German parliamentary democracy collapsed in the 
middle of 1930. 'The Center Party chancellor, Eleinrich Bruening, an 
experienced parliamentarian, had been unable to put together a 
budget agreeable to both the Social Democrats and the bourgeois 
parties and threatened to pass it by constitutional emergency decree. 
Part of the conventional wisdom has castigated Bruening too gener- 
ously by claiming that he had begun to pave the road to dictatorship, 
presidential or otherwise, by his impatience. Another part of the 
wisdom, however, has suggested that the parties were to blame 




through their fundamental urges to protect their own interests. In 
the actual event, Bruening would get a budget enacted by presiden- 
tial emergency decree and would attempt to get a more functional 
Reichstag by calling a new election. 

During that election battle and following ones, Hitler would 
exhibit a persona that was also messianic to a degree that he not only 
looked and acted as one but was also able to transform himself in front 
of mass audiences. Impressions from the period by persons so diverse 
as to be almost incredible drive us in the same direction. The great 
biographers agree, for example, that Hitler could be characterized as 
utterly consistent in his world outlook from the time he departed 
Vienna in 1913 and stood frozen in that emotional state. The great 
biographers in agreeing upon this rigidity take it as a negative factor 
that illustrated Hitler’s rejection of seeking further knowledge beyond 
that discovered early in life and which had resulted in his fixation on 
the Germans as under attack by an international enemy. The biogra- 
phers trivialize Hitler’s rigidity as based on late adolescent bias 
frozen in place and fed by the environment of the German loss of 
World War I. But to attribute Hitler’s rigid consistency and world- 
altering achievements to bias, prejudice, and hatred from the Vienna 
period strains our credulity from the viewpoint of cause and effect. 
Hitler seems to have been more a product of a single coherent reve- 
lation and a resulting fixed and unalterable mission. 

We can get no better insight into Hitler than his consistency in 
pursuing the mission of the destruction of Marxism. The consis- 
tency, however, is not based on some alleged incapacity to “grow” 
beyond late adolescent frustration and hate but rather on the revela- 
tion of a timeless enemy and the mission of its destruction. So do we 
interpret Hitler as a kind of historical fit of pique or a granite-hard, 
dark, avenging messiah? His relentless consistency in the attack on 
Marxists and November Criminals is in accord with the unalterable 
messages of the great Christian messiah or Islamic Prophet. The 
attribution of evil in Hitler’s consistency because of excessive hatred 
of an enemy must be handled with care also. If Hitler is interpreted 



as messiah, or at least a man characterized most fundamentally as 
having the qualities of a messiah, then it was his mission to save the 
Germans from some enemy — presumably a considerable one. Given 
the dimensions of the enemy suggested by the size of Germany and 
its misfortune, it is difficult to imagine Hitler either as messiah or 
otherwise and not hating the enemy. Did Jesus the Christ or 
Mohammed the Prophet hate Satan or merely disapprove of him? 
We do not have to answer this question to get further into Hitler, but 
we do have to point out that Hitler could be considered to be a mes- 
sianic figure notwithstanding the presence of either hate or outrage 
in his presentation of the Marxist enemy. 

In 1929 and 1930, Hitler and his indefatigable Nazi core activists 
secured gains in local elections, achieved national prominence in the 
attempt to defeat the Owen D. Young Plan to secure long-term repa- 
ration from Germany, and then won breakthrough gains in the 
Reichstag election of September 1930. Hitler was forced to conduct 
a delicate balancing act between the rougher and more revolu- 
tionary Sturmabteilung (SA) personnel and the mass of his followers 
who adhered to his policy of the legal takeover of Germany. Hitler 
based his policy of legality on the winning of Reichstag and Landtage 
elections and those to more important city councils. Success in these 
elections would translate into government positions and the capa- 
bility to effect a nationalist awakening. Out of such a picture we can 
see that the two most important government positions in the 
republic were those of president and chancellor, the former elected 
every seven years by direct vote and the latter arranged among sev- 
eral compatible parties that together had received a majority of the 
votes to the Reichstag. The last nonemergency Reichstag cabinet, for 
example, consisted of eleven cabinet ministers, namely, four Social 
Democrats, two Democrats, one Genter, one Bavarian People’s, two 
People’s, and two nonpartisan. This cabinet was the government of 
Germany and reflected the fact that the parties above had received 
more than 50 percent of the votes in the last nonemergency election 
of May 1928 and therefore controlled more than half of the Reich- 



stag deputies. And it is not surprising that the chancellor, Hermann 
Mueller, was a deputy from the party that had won a plurality of 
deputies, the Social Democratic Party. 

After the successful Reichstag election of September 1930, Hitler 
can be generalized as driving to obtain the chancellorship during the 
period 1930-1933. This generalization is more complex than it may 
seem because the German president had been forced to pass legisla- 
tion at the request of the chancellor by presidential emergency 
decree, in effect becoming the chancellor instead of being the titular 
head of state. Hindenburg did not do this willingly but was forced by 
the circumstances of the depression, the failure of the political parties 
to effect a majority coalition, and the failure of the government to win 
ground externally on questions of tariff treaties, armaments, and 
reparations because “above all, France — -alarmed by the results of the 
September elections — refused all concessions and cultivated her hys- 
terias.” 1 Hitler could have achieved power legally most directly by 
obtaining over 50 percent of the votes in a Reichstag election and 
thereby necessarily being appointed chancellor by the president. 
Under the constitution, executive authority in the state was vested in 
the chancellor and his cabinet, and although he was appointed by the 
president, he would be responsible to the Reichstag. Since the Reich- 
stag had the power of initiating bills, Hitler would have had both the 
legislative and executive authority to synchronize Germany with the 
Nazi movement. And under the circumstances of a functioning Reich- 
stag, the president would have had no necessity to invoke his emer- 
gency powers. 

No single party would receive 50 percent of the Reichstag vote 
in the entire period from 1919 through March 1933, and Hitler 
would be forced to seize the chancellorship with a near or full plu- 
rality of the votes in a system described as proportional representa- 
tion or scrutin de lute. Under proportional representation, voters 
scrutinized lists of candidates presented by the parties and voted for 
the favored list. A mere sixty thousand votes in a Reichstag voting 
district would be sufficient for a party to take the first candidate on 



its list and place him as a deputy in the legislature. Under a system 
in which voters chose diffuse lists of candidates and not the candi- 
dates individually the Nazis were fortunate, because the voters 
would tend to be voting for their electrifying leader rather than an 
inherently bland and faceless list. 

Hitler’s single-minded drive for the chancellorship through the 
legal means of voting campaigns under proportional representation 
began with the special Reichstag election of September. The results 
have been described accurately as a “landslide” for the Nazis, yet they 
netted only 18.3 percent of the German vote. But with 18 percent, how- 
ever, in a deepening super-depression internally and intransigent, near- 
hysterical French imposition of the Versailles treaty externally, Hitler 
now faced the near-term opportunity to seize the chancellorship. 

The above situation is well-established, but the interpretive 
question remains: Who was the Hitler who confronted decisive 
opportunity, the banal creature of the great biographers or the mes- 
siah sometimes flickering in and out of view as a Wagnerian hero? In 
the former case, the biographers paint Hitler as a personal medioc- 
rity and egomaniac who left himself no options toward the end of 
1932 and was forced “as usual” to gamble on all or nothing — the 
chancellorship or obscurity. Under the conditions of Article 48 
having been invoked by the president from mid- 1930 through early 
1933, Hitler also had the reasonable possibility to achieve power 
legally through election to the presidency. Although the possibility 
was there, the probabilities were remote, and in the actual events of 
the two presidential elections of 1932, Hitler would do extremely 
well with almost 37 percent of the vote in the deciding second elec- 
tion but considerably fewer than the absolute majority amassed by 
Hindenburg. To achieve power over Germany in the aftermath of 
the presidential elections, Hitler faced the original and now only 
remaining legal possibility, which was the Reichstag elections and 
the “seizure” of the chancellorship. Within Hitler’s vision of a secure 
Reich with adequate space eastward, however, the chancellorship 
was only a way station toward completion of his mission. From such 



a perspective, Hitler not only had to have the chancellorship but also 
had to have it virtually immediately in historical-opportunity sav- 
ings time. 

There was not enough time when we contrast the magnitude of 
Hitler’s remaining tasks with any reasonable expectation of his life 
span. In an unguarded moment of exhaustion during the second 
presidential voting campaign of 1932, he would harangue his 
Gauleiter , Albert Krebs in Hamburg, about fears over what he had 
diagnosed as approaching fatal cancer that left him only a few years 
to complete his mission. “I do not have time to wait — If I had time, 

I wouldn’t have become a candidate. The Old Gentleman . . . won’t 
last much longer. But I cannot lose even a year. I must come to power 
quickly in order to solve the gigantic problems in the little time 
remaining to me. I must! I must!” 2 Hitler required the chancellorship 
immediately. In contrast, there was too much time for the Nazis, who 
were a volatile mix of disparate followers of Hitler, to evaporate into 
their various former incarnations. There was not enough time after 
the seizure of internal power to set aside the Versailles and Saint 
Germain treaties, rearm, and advance east. Against such a back- 
ground, the play of chance in the form of the calling of a special 
Reichstag election forjuly 1932 would intervene to present the deci- 
sive opportunity for Hitler to become chancellor. 

Under the system of proportional representation and in the 
presence of fifteen political parties that managed to get deputies in 
the Reichstag, the Nazis would win just over 37 percent of the total. 
With so overwhelming a plurality, Hitler could have expected rea- 
sonably to have been appointed as a presidential chancellor. He 
would have required, for example, only a tactically manageable 
alliance involving an additional 13 percent of the deputies for 
majority votes for the passage of legislation. The overwhelming 
probability is, however, that he would have demanded a new election 
and, with the prestige of the backing of the president and the enor- 
mous possibilities to influence the election through the authority of 
the chancellorship, have gone for an outright majority in the Reich- 



stag. We can make this generalization with confidence because six 
months later, when he was appointed chancellor, he acted thus. 

* * * 

During this period, the great biographers would portray Hitler as an 
egomaniac and a gambler dedicated to achieving everything or 
nothing— literally the chancellorship or death — against the back- 
ground of a shattered movement. On the issue of death, they seem 
to be on to something because as the options narrowed in early 
December 1932, Hitler’s powerful, trusted lieutenant Gregor 
Strasser would resign over the issue of Strasser accepting the post of 
vice chancellor in order to salvage at least something from all of the 
partial successes in national and local voting campaigns, especially 
from September 1930 onward. In the ensuing apparent disintegra- 
tion of the movement, Hitler would threaten: “If the party should 
ever break up, I will make an end of things in three minutes with a 
pistol.” 3 And later in the month, Hitler would write to his revered 
Winifred Wagner: “As soon as I am sure everything is lost you know 
what I’ll do. I was always determined to do it. I cannot accept defeat. 
I will stick to my word and end my life with a bullet.” 4 Hitler had 
been shocked to the core by this presence of an apparent eleventh- 
hour Judas, but such was Hitler’s uncanny hold over even a towering 
associate like Strasser that the latter could have remarked not long 
before that “I fought as one of Hitler’s men and as one of Hitler’s 
men 1 want someday to go to my grave.” 5 

1 Iitler would characterize the seizure of power a month later as 
a “triumph of the will,” but the biographers would resist so extrava- 
gant a claim by their biographical bete noir and suggest that back 
stairs intrigue by a camarilla associated with the president levered 
him into power. The biographers are correct in pointing out that for 
Hitler the position of chancellor remained the only option for the 
seizure of power in early December 1932 and that he would need 
something akin to a miracle to achieve it. Out of this they pull 



together the generalization that Hitler ineptly, with a gambler’s 
mentality, had narrowed his options as in a game of poker to the 
draw of a final card for complete success or utter ruin. But Hitler in 
1925 had already limited his options to a legal path and never varied 
from it. When from September 1930 through early 1933 the Nazis 
became the legal voting force to be reckoned with, Hitler also never 
varied in his invariable demand for the chancellorship. In early 1932 
he told a high-level follower, Hans Frank: “I see myself as Chan- 
cellor and I will be Chancellor. I do not see myself as President, and 
I know I will never be President.” 6 As a messianic figure dedicated to 
the necessarily complete success of his mission, Hitler had only one 
option during the entire period, and it is inaccurate to claim that he 
had narrowed his options through some gambler’s instinct to risk all 
on a stubborn demand for the chancellorship in late 1932. It is closer 
to reality to say that Hitler’s unbending demand for the chancellor- 
ship had reduced the options of the president and the intriguers to 
an eleventh-hour choice between Hitler and civil war. 

Hitler would succeed in his flexible strategy of a legal takeover 
of the German government, and Nazi propaganda would char- 
acterize the event of January 30, 1933, as the seizure of power. The 
word seizure implies the manly, revolutionary takeover of the 
government, but no such action took place on that date. The biogra- 
phers would fasten on the situation to denigrate Hitler’s accom- 
plishment by generalizing that the wicked, violent Nazis were in 
reality ignominiously placed in power by a government clique. The 
generalization is a non sequitur, however, because Hitler intended 
that the wicked, violent Nazis take the chancellorship ignomin- 
iously, that is, legally, and they did so notwithstanding the throwing 
about of words with a potentially illegal cast such as seizure, 
national rising, and 'the like. No man in Germany advised Hitler to 
take these courses of action, and we are compelled to ask: What 
manner of man could have acted so alone, so relentlessly, and on so 
grand a scale? 

The answer to this question cannot be found in the masterfully 



written but propagandistically tainted great biographies. Those 
works, especially the ones of Alan Bullock and Ian Kershaw, must be 
seen as containing elements of biographical hubris — arrogant pas- 
sion in the pursuit of an interpretation of Hitler as banal and evil, 
egomania and megalomania. Even though the latest great biogra- 
pher, Ian Kershaw, would state unequivocally that world history 
would have been different without Hitler, he nevertheless levers him 
into power through the machinations of a camarilla and does not 
give enough credit to Hitler’s inhuman consistency in his demands 
for the chancellorship. Hitler’s claim to a triumph of the will is an 
accurate one strategically, although it has to be modified by 
acknowledging the play of chance in the form of a tactical miracle. 

The conventional wisdom, nevertheless, has acknowledged 
Hitler’s overriding consistency in driving for the chancellorship after 
late 1925 and qualified that consistency as a messianic characteristic. 
Biographer Joachim Fest could note, for example, that Hitler would 
react to Alfred Hugenberg’s painstakingly gathered national united 
front of October 1931 at Harzburg by breaking it apart. “With his 
own peculiar consistency, Hitler realized that any community of 
action could mean only subordination. At best, it would imply that 
henceforth Germany would have to be looking up to two ‘saviors’ — 
an absurdity from Hitler’s point of view.” 7 Although Kershaw iden- 
tified Hitler as a messiah, he undermined his insight by claiming that 
Hitler viewed the practical destruction of the Harzburg Front as a 
clever tactical move in a game among parliamentary parties. And 
finally, to destroy the near insight of savior, he placed the word in 
italics as if to suggest flippantly some egomaniacal delusion on 
Hitler’s part as having a holy mission. The biographers commonly 
suggest that Hitler saw himself as a German savior, but they do so 
derisively, often using the words messianic complex to describe his con- 
dition. Hitler drove with consistency, and his own inimitable finality 
against the Marxists claiming that it was fated not just to defeat them 
in an electoral campaign but to annihilate them. He would state in a 
speech in Hamburg in early 1926 in a tone both apodictic (i.c., 



absolutely certain) and apocalyptic (i.e., prophetically revealed) that 
“we recognize quite clearly that if Marxism wins, we will be annihi- 
lated. Nor would we expect anything else. But if we win, Marxism 

will be annihilated We too know no tolerance — We shall not rest 

until the . . . last Marxist [is] converted or exterminated. There is no 
middle course.” 8 For virtually any man in the world to have spoken 
these words he would have had to have been presenting donations- 
gathering and vote-getting rhetoric. For virtually any man in a 
friendly audience to have heard them, he would have experienced 
the rhetorical violence that he yearned for but would scarcely have 
imagined that the speaker had presented literal truth. Faced by a 
man characterized by so much of the apodictic and apocalyptic, and 
with a third of the voters behind him in a system of proportional 
representation, Hindenburg and the intriguers around him had no 
realistic options to oppose Hitler. 

And for the entire period from 1919 through 1933, no evidence 
of corruptibility on Hitler’s part has been produced, although the 
search for it has lasted for close to one-half century. The search has 
been for evidence of corrupt promises to favor big business and 
wealthy individuals in ways that would undermine the purity of 
Nazi doctrine. In frustration, biographer Fest would note that “the 
National Socialists themselves lent encouragement to the most fan- 
tastic theories by practicing a psychotic form of secrecy concerning 
their financial resources.” 9 The gratuitous selection of the word psy- 
chotic to characterize the Nazis and Hitler is not a good sign for an 
accurate interpretation of either. Fest continued to wrestle with this 
fundamental issue of Hitler’s character in the following, more real- 
istic, appreciation. In late 1923, “Max Amann, the party’s business 
manager . . . insisted, not without pride that Hitler had given his 
backers ‘only the party platform’ in return for their contributions. 
This may seem hard to credit; nevertheless, there is reason to believe 
that the only agreements he made were on tactical lines.” 10 And as a 
monument to interpretive schizophrenia in the minds of the biogra- 
phers, their battle to deny the presence of Lohengrin in Hitler and 



instead to highlight a prince of darkness, one stated that “the con- 
cept of corruption seems strangely alien to this man; it does not 
accord with his rigidity, his mounting self confidence and the force 
of his delusions.” 11 

* * * 

Hitler subjected his audiences to late, dramatic, sudden entrances 
and then almost invariably would begin his speech with historical 
background and reminiscence, “usually lingering on the legend of 
his rise.” With a notable dearth of either comprehension or interest, 
the biographers chalk off such beginnings as monotonous and trivial. 
But that which is repeated need not be monotonous, and that which 
is trivial to a hostile biographer today need not have been so to an 
audience of Germans in the outrageous surroundings of the early 
1920s and early 1930s. For Hitler to have begun almost every mass 
address with historical context, especially the contrasting glories and 
misfortunes of the recent past, suggests the consistency of a messiah. 
For Hitler to have placed himself similarly within that context — 
“When in 1918 as a nameless soldier at the front...” — was to 
announce the presence of an armed savior. 12 And with virtually 
every mass address during the rise to power a contemporary could 
observe that “after about fifteen minutes . . . there takes place what 
can only be described in the primitive old figure of speech: the spirit 
enters into him.” 13 Hitler himself could observe that in the midst of 
the mass meeting, he became another person. 

The great biographers would come close to an effective charac- 
terization when dealing with him in his acknowledged clement. After 
tepid praise of his capabilities as tactician, organizer, and psycholo- 
gist, Fest would strike the mark with the comment: “his invincible 
genius came to him only in the course of mass meetings, when he 
exalted platitudes into the resounding words of a prophet and 
seemed to transform himself into the leader.” 14 Fest would present a 
heady description of Hitler but degrade the effect with the use of the 



words platitudes and seemed. Platitudes — commonplace remarks, pop- 
ular bombast — are associated with parliamentary politicians on the 
reelection trail. But as messiah and prophet of his own coming, Hitler 
could only speak “the resounding words of a prophet,” and what 
would be platitudes for all others were for him words of salvation and 
destruction. And Hitler did not seem to transform himself into the 
leader; he awakened the audience to the fact that the savior was in 
front of it. During the second presidential election in early 1932, 
Hitler would declare “that he thought he was an instrument of God, 
chosen to liberate Germany.” 15 Elizabeth Foerster-Nietzsche, the 
philosopher’s sister, evidently agreed because she could note after a 
visit by Hitler at Weimar that he struck her as a religious rather than 
a political leader. 16 Rudolf Hess would compare his leadership per- 
sonality with the founder of a religion: “He must communicate to his 
listeners an apodictic faith.” 17 And Goebbels, the master cynic of the 
Nazi movement who would nevertheless die faithful to the last to 
Hitler, could “describe his Leader as the ‘fulfillment of a mysterious 
longing,’ bringing faith in deepest despair.” 18 

Kershaw would attempt to interpret the words above as linked to 
the conscious manufacture of “Hitler idolatry” and “the establish- 
ment of the Fuehrer cult” because such things were necessary for 
the development of a movement torn by factionalism. But to see 
Nazism as a kind of exercise in how to hold together a movement, 
and Hitler as a necessarily strained creature of a Fuehrer cult, 
simply does not hold together. Hess, at the very inception of the 
movement — before his fawning period as a Hitler sycophant, as 
interpreted by Kershaw — would broadcast the presence of a world- 
historical personality. It is one thing to be seduced by a propaganda 
apparatus into the sway of a cult, and it is another to be converted 
into a disciple. Kershaw, who personifies the conventional wisdom, 
could note that “a war veteran dated his Fuehrer worship to Hitler’s 
speeches during his trial in 1924. ‘From that time on I had no 
thought for anyone but Hitler. His behavior moved me to give him 
my whole faith without reserve.’” 19 We see here a faith-driven con- 



version to Hitler that cannot reasonably be described as Fuehrer 
worship in early 1924 and thus cannot be associated with a contrived 
propaganda image. Another German who heard him speak in 1926 
could claim “from that day on I could never violate my allegiance to 
Hitler. I saw his unlimited faith in his people and the desire to set 
them free.” 20 

But the biographers have as a tenet of Hitler interpretation that 
his innumerable speeches to mass German audiences could be seen as 
an exchange of pathologies between him and a significant part of the 
German masses: “he could not have bewitched the masses if he had 
not incorporated all their psychoses into his own psyche ... an 
exchange of pathologies took place, the union of individual and col- 
lective crises in heady festivals of released repression.” 21 The biogra- 
pher Fest indicts Germans as pathological neurotics, which was 
doubtful and misleadingly Germano-centric — only Germans were 
neurotics — and we have no historical context to aid us in a more real- 
istic understanding of Hitler and more rational interpretation of the 
coming of World War 11. If we accept that Hitler and “the Germans” 
exchanged pathologies in the fateful period 1919-1933, we must 
accept that “the French” and Raymond Poincare, for example, 
exchanged similarly dimensioned pathologies during the French inva- 
sion of the Rhineland and associated adventures of 1923 and 1924. 
The biographers scatter about the words neuroses , pathologies , and the 
like, but would have been better served to have generalized that the 
most intense human being of the twentieth century developed a com- 
pulsion to save the Germans while simultaneously representative con- 
verts to Nazism accepted him as an object of sacred allegiance. 

Hitler, of course, had a more immediate enemy than the French 
in the period of the rise to power, and that enemy was the Marxists 
— Communists and Social Democrats — and associated November 
Criminals. It can be stated categorically that, for Hitler, power was 
not an end in itself but the means by w-hich the Marxists could be 
either converted or destroyed. The biographers know this; for 
example, Fest would state that “he had never wanted to be cast as one 



politician among many others. His idea was always to come on the 
scene as savior from the deadly embrace of communism, surrounded 
by his rescuing hosts, and thus take power. This role coincided with 
. . . his sense of being always engaged in a global struggle with the 
powers of darkness.” 22 Since, however, Hitler had determined by 
1925 to seize power legally, he would be forced in the actual event of 
1933 to seize it with the permission of the president and then, with 
his rescuing hosts, use it to destroy the Marxists. 

There is both subtlety and complexity in this interpretive image 
of Hitler because, as the biographers themselves agree, his role as 
savior “coincided with both his dramatic and eschatological tem- 
perament.” 23 If eschatology can be seen as the doctrine of last or 
final things — for example, the end of an age, the second advent of 
Christ, immortality, judgment, and so on — then Hitler filled the bill 
as having had such a temperament. Hitler saw himself and his Nazi 
hosts as locked in a final struggle between the forces of good and evil 
in which the losing side would be annihilated — it could expect 
nothing less. Messiahs do not compromise, and Hitler had a vision of 
faith in Germany and a darker vision of faith in the destruction of 
its enemies, neither one of which was subject to compromise or 
capable of being interpreted in terms of political ideology. The 
eschatological road leads us to a man with the characteristics and 
temperament of a messiah. 

Hitler committed numerous crimes in his early period, including 
acts of treason against the republic that should have resulted in 
deportation or lengthy prison terms. The biographers rail against the 
Weimar, Berlin, and Munich governments for not ridding themselves 
of Hitler for numerous unlawful acts and breaches of the constitu- 
tion, implying that the latter were particularly heinous. We see both 
biographers and historians treat Hitler as an arrogant breaker of the 
laws of the republic, but not one makes the point that the legally 
sacrosanct republic had been brought into existence by the note- 
worthy, illegal machinations of the Marxist parties and splinters in 
October and November 1918. The situation was a perverse one 



indeed in which an illegally and violently constituted republic 
replaced more than one thousand years of princely rule and then 
sheltered behind the legality of its own self-serving constitution. This 
is a harsh judgment and should probably be tempered by the com- 
ment that illegal revolution is difficult to justify legally, particularly in 
its immediate aftermath. Notwithstanding his violent instincts, Hitler 
never attacked the constitution on the basis of its legal authority, but 
rather he attacked the republic on the basis of its derivation from the 
November Criminals. The constitution was irretrievably tainted, in 
Nazi eyes, through association with the November Criminals, but 
once Hitler embraced a strategy of legal takeover of power in 1925, 
the Nazis could scarcely attack the constitution of the republic on a 
legal basis afterwards. But perhaps most important for the characteri- 
zation of Hitler as messiah, he could not remotely become involved 
in the details of an attack on a boring bourgeois document when he 
had pulled together Germans through his compelling Romantic 
vision of their salvation in a perfect Germany. 

In piecing together the Hitler who had seized the chancellorship 
in January 1933, we cannot miss the religiously styled fervor de- 
scribed by a liberal young journalist in terms that seem to lead 
nowhere else: “His audience was breathlessly under his spell. This 
man expressed their thoughts, their feelings, their hopes; a new 
prophet had arisen — many saw in him already another Christ who 
predicted the end of their sufferings and had the power to lead them 
into the promised land if they were only prepared to follow him.” 24 
And a very different schoolteacher could corroborate with the 
words: “How many look to him in touching faith as the helper, savior, 
the redeemer from overgreat distress. To him, who rescues the 
Prussian prince, the scholar, the clergyman, the peasant, the worker, 
the unemployed.” 25 This judgment of early 1932 can barely have 
been influenced by the apparatus of a propaganda ministry created 
one year later. Hitler would extend his image as savior in a move- 
ment anchored in faith in a man who would replace an entire system 
of talkative parliamentary parties with a very talkative solitary hero. 



But in this compelling picture of a messiah and his alter ego, 
Hitler confounds us in his emotional breadth with yet another per- 
sonality facet. The fifteen-year-old of Linz who raced for the best 
standing room at the base of the columns holding the imperial box in 
the municipal opera house already stood enthralled by the themes, 
settings, and personages of Wagner’s heroic masterpieces. Hitler had 
an astonishing talent and affinity for architecture, and Ludwig Troost, 
the superbly educated, classically inclined architect who was a rare 
teacher figure for Hitler, could comment, “Yes, it’s extraordinary the 
scope of what he knows. I’ve found, for example, that his theoretical 
knowledge of architecture exceeds mine. He has a remarkable sense 
for effects.” 26 For both Wagner and Hitler, staging and effect were 
vital parts of the Wagnerian epics, and, along with the opera house 
itself, these elements could be considered as the architecture of 
heavy opera. Within his second alter ego as part of a German polit- 
ical opera from 1919 through 1933, Hitler must be interpreted as 
more than the would-be Wagnerian hero, derided by the biographers 
as such. But if ever there were a grand opera played out in world his- 
tory, it would be Germany from the end of the First to the end of the 
Second World Wars. Hitler was not a would-be anything in it but 
rather Lohengrin writ both large and modern. But he was not only 
the lead voice and main actor but also the composer, librettist, stage 
setting director, and architect of the opera house itself. Wagner had a 
compulsion to have his operas set as effectively as possible, actually 
building an opera house in Bayreuth for that purpose and conceptu- 
alizing on a scale beyond any conventional structure the setting of his 
operas on a close off-shore island on a Bavarian mountain lake with 
audience ranged along the shore. In such architectural settings, 
Hitler, with his talents and interests in architectural effects and 
human psychology, would exceed the Master of Bayreuth. 

Since Hitler expressed himself continuously in terms of these 
themes — messiah, world spirit, and Wagnerian hero — it would be 
difficult to believe in 1932, when he was offered the vice chancellor- 
ship, that party members would not understand how he could refuse 



and persevere in the quest for full power. Yet many did not compre- 
hend how T litlcr could refuse the success embodied in the title “vice 
chancellor,” and began to suspect self destructive obstinacy, dark 
personal motive, and the like. But how could a man who compre- 
hended himself as noted above and faced with fleeting time have set- 
tled for the position of vice chancellor? Yet a man as high in the 
movement as any except for Hitler himself could present the great 
opportunity but also potential for disaster as follows: “Along comes 
Hindenburg. . . a man of honor, who honestly and decently offers 
him a place in the government, and there stands the ‘ wahnfnedische 
Lohengrin-Hitler with his darkly menacing boys . . . Goering . . . 
Goebbcls . . . Roehm. 27 In these words, Gregor Strasser would char- 
acterize Hitler’s opportunity, succinctly interpret his top lieutenants, 
and, as his main point, suggest that Hitler should have taken the offer 
of a place in the government. 

Yet Strasser knew the words that Hitler addressed to Germany 
in his final speech at the end of his nationally covered trial in 1924. 
Charged that he committed treason to become a minister in a new 
government, Hitler would explode: “1 aimed from the first at some- 
thing a thousand times higher than a minister. I wanted to become 
the destroyer of Marxism. I am going to achieve this task.” 28 Since 
Nazis and their sympathizers looked upon Hitler as a savior, they 
could not be expected to be saved by anyone so incredible as a vice 
savior, especially one who would be disguised as a vice chancellor in 
a discredited political system. In retrospect, against such a situation 
of expectancy in the rank and file of the movement, a man who knew 
Hitler well enough to identify him as Lohengrin would advise him 
to accept the vice chancellorship or allow another Nazi to slip into 
such a position. Strasser got close enough to Hitler to see him acting 
as Lohengrin but not close enough to see him as being Lohengrin. 

Hitler made it clear in writing that he “always came out in favor 
of taking a position in important questions of principle against all 

public opinion when it assumed a false attitude 'The NSDAP 

[Nationalsozialistische Deutsche ArbeiterparteiJ should not become 



a constable of public opinion, but must dominate it .” 29 But Hitler 
could also say that “the brilliant popular orator” will “always let him- 
self be borne by the great masses in such a way that instinctively the 
very words come to his lips that he needs to speak to the hearts of 
his audience .” 30 The conventional wisdom sees Hitler thus as a 
human tuning fork, sensing especially the baser emotions among the 
members of his audiences and being led by them to respond to 
applause. Hitler, however, makes it clear that he was always 
enforcing arguments on his audience. Only when he sensed that his 
audience had understood his arguments and had become convinced 
by them would he become elevated through passionate instinct to 
hammer on the accepted argument to continuous rounds of thun- 
derous applause. We can have confidence in this generalization 
because he corroborates it by observing that “the speaker can tell at 
any moment if his audience can understand what he is saying, if it 
can follow the speech as a whole, and if he has convinced it of the 
soundness of what he has said .” 31 If the speaker suspects that the 
audience does “not seem convinced of the soundness of his argu- 
ment repeat it over and over in constantly new examples. He himself 
will utter their objections, which he senses although unspoken, and 
go on . . . exploding them until at length even the last group of an 
opposition, by its very bearing and facial expression, enables him to 
recognize its capitulation to his arguments .” 32 

These words and numerous similar ones in Mein Kampf show 
Hitler wrestling presumably with every audience to impose his 
arguments on it, but scarcely as a shallow demagogue. A demagogue 
tells his audience what it wants to hear. A messiah tells his audience 
what he wants it to hear. And if there is a subtlety in this that links 
the old conventional wisdom with revision, it is that both the dema- 
gogue and the messianic world-historical personality are attuned to 
the hopes and fears of the era, but the messiah dominates them while 
the demagogue goes along for a short, self-serving ride. And curi- 
ously enough, the confusion between Hitler rendered as demagogue 
or as messiah may arise from the same thunderous applause by audi- 



ences to the accumulating spoken words of either one. But the path 
to the applause would he so different that to interpret him as “a mere 
demagogue” would miss the point of the phenomenon. 

* * * 

In the period particularly from 1925 through 1933, Hitler conspired 
to make his big and then his fatefully great decisions in unique seclu- 
sion. By 1925 no party committee, no party congress or parliament, 
no inner group of bona fide advisors, no individual advisor, no gray 
eminence, and no woman existed to temper or exaggerate Hitler’s 
decisions in the drive for control over Germany. When pressed, 
Hitler could say to inquisitive newspaper reporters after the break- 
through election of 1930 that, if they wanted to know about his 
thoughts on National Socialism, to ask Rudolf Hess. But we must 
acknowledge that the essence of what Hess knew about Hitler was 
that he was the leadership personality who would save Germany. 
Hess, as the adjutant and secretary of Hitler, cannot be imagined to 
have influenced Hitler in his decision making except in terms of 
being a sounding board for his conceptualizations. The handful of 
others in the movement who could be likened to either great polit- 
ical Feldherren and general staff advisors — Strasser in the north, 
Goebbels in Berlin, Goering after 1928 in various guises, and Roehm 
all over Germany — cannot be seen to have had a decisive influence 
over Hitler’s decision making. The conventional wisdom acknowl- 
edges this extraordinary situation by agreeing that the Nazi move- 
ment was both conceptualized and led by Hitler — unlike, for 
example, Marxian socialism in Russia, where Marx had conceptual- 
ized it, Lenin had successfully led it, and Stalin had inherited it. 

In his first great decision of the epic year 1932, Hitler would per- 
form as distinctive, enduring Hitler. We are fortunate to have the 
diary of his follower most responsible for carrying out the decision 
and, of course, we have the interpretive comments of the hostile 
biographers. The government had set the seven-year presidential 



election for early March, and Bruening had coerced Hindenburg to 
stand for reelection after being unable to craft the alternative of a 
second term without an election process. Hitler would face a situa- 
tion that could be described in today’s jargon as lose-lose, for if he 
ran against Hindenburg he would almost certainly lose, and if he did 
not run he would almost certainly lose the offensive spirit of the 
entire movement. Hitler faced a perilous decision, and his biogra- 
phers have been at a loss to interpret his style and timing in making 
it. He would reply evasively to Bruening’s request for a constitu- 
tional amendment that would have made Hindenburg, at age eighty- 
four, president for life; it became evident in the first days of January 
1932 that an election would take place as scheduled on March 13. 

Against this background, Hitler would not announce his candi- 
dacy for the presidency for an astounding period of approximately 
six weeks. Faced with this incomprehensively long period, the biog- 
raphers have been forced to use words similar to the following to 
interpret him: “he remained impassive while Goebbels and others 
hammered at him to announce his candidature — Here was still 
another instance of Hitler’s curious indecisiveness. He had a fatal- 
istic streak and liked to let things take their course, postponing 
action until the last moment. . . . Goebbels’s diary reveals . . . Hitler’s 
tortuous [sic], almost bizarre vacillations.” 33 And finally, Kershaw 
notes “the doubts that had assailed Goebbels during the preceding 
weeks in the face of Hitler’s weak leadership.” 34 The choice of 
words such as remained impassive, curious indecisiveness, post- 
poning action until the last moment, fatalistic streak, torturous 
almost bizarre vacillation, and weeks of weak leadership, shows 
Kershaw largely unable to understand Hitler’s personality at all. Yet 
the latter had determined by 1925 never again to be pressed into 
decisions such as those that had led to the near-extinction of the 
movement in the earlier Munich fiasco. Hitler demanded that his 
leadership be accepted unconditionally and that each party member 
see in himself the supporter of the common idea — Hitler’s over- 
arching and marvelously hazy faith in Germany. Hitler would lead 



based on his representation of the common idea, his personification 
of the idea, and his infallibility in making decisions to create the 
perfect German state inherent in the idea. 

Goebbels would indeed agonize over Hitler’s failure to allow 
him to announce his candidacy during the period of January 9 
through late February 1932. On February 22, Goebbels went to the 
Kaiserhof Hitler’s Berlin hotel headquarters, to brief him on the con- 
tents of his speech for that evening to the general membership of the 
west, east, and north regions of the party in Germany. When 
Goebbels brought up yet again the candidacy, Hitler unexpectedly 
and almost casually gave him permission to announce it then, only 
twenty-two days from the election. Until that point, as noted, the 
biographers saw curious indecision, wavering, postponing of things 
to the last moment, and weak leadership. To all intents and purposes, 
and to use the words of Kershaw himself, “Hitler dithered for more 
than a month before deciding to run for the presidency.” 35 

Rather than showing weak leadership and dithering, however, 
Hitler can be seen more realistically as maintaining undisputed 
authority over a volatile movement while deciding when to run, not 
whether to run. He would not only make the 1932 decision in 
splendid isolation, but also reserve to himself the timing of its public 
announcement; Goebbels himself could comment at the beginning 
of the whole business: “Much guessing about what the Fuehrer will 
do.” Much guessing would turn out to be about when he would make 
the decision, and it is tempting to make an analogy with Hitler’s 
characteristic dramatic entries into his mass public meetings. He 
would commonly demand observations of the mood, excitement, 
anticipation of the audience, and, at the special moment that he 
sensed the audience’s anticipation to be peaking but soon to dissi- 
pate, Hitler would sweep onto the scene and advance directly to the 
podium. In the first presidential election of 1932, before an audience 
of every German and many Nazis, he seemed to have consciously 
gauged the anticipation and timed his entry for his greatest audience 
and biggest speech as pulled together in the election. 



* * 


During almost the entire period of the drive for power, biographers 
and historians alike have darkened the party’s “army” partly through 
preconceived bias and resulting assumption that the Sturmabteilung 
(SA) was an evil organization that could be criticized without the 
reasonable constraints of history as nonfiction. The conventional 
wisdom uses words such as terror . , beer swilling bullies, criminals, sadists, 
and the ever present noun thug, to characterize the organization and 
its men. It is apparently easy to ignore the fastening of the formal 
title Sturmabteilung as a result of the great Saalschlacht (meeting room 
battle) of November 1921 in the Hofbraeuhaus in Munich in which 
approximately 450 Social Democratic meeting breakers attempted 
to prevent Hitler from finishing a speech and were repelled by forty- 
six Nazi defenders. At its inception, Hitler employed the SA as an 
indispensable political combat detachment to protect Nazi meetings 
and to post and distribute propaganda and meeting announcements. 
To accomplish the latter, the SA had to establish the street presence 
necessary to carry out activity that was so dangerously provocative 
to the Reds who had naturally assumed domination of the public 
thoroughfares and plazas since the revolution. 

Hitler would struggle with the concept of what the SA of 
October-November 1921 should become and, with his characteris- 
tically compact and compelling logic, decided was as follows: To 
survive as a political movement and to defeat the Marxists, he and 
his Nazis required force in meeting hall and street in order to shield 
and project a mass movement. He reasoned that to serve the political 
mission of a mass movement, “the SA could be neither a military 
combat organization nor a secret league.” 36 As concerns its physical 
training, for example, “the emphasis must be laid not on military 
drilling, but on athletic activity. Boxing and jiu-jitsu have always 
seemed to me to be more important than any inferior, because 
incomplete, training in marksmanship.” 37 To prevent the SA at its 
inception from assuming any secret character, he would insist on an 



“immediately recognizable” uniform and enlist the largest numbers 
of wearers practicable. And as concerns comprehending Hitler in 
terms of his elevated conception of what he and the Nazis were 
about, he would insist that the SA had to “be completely initiated 
into the great idea of the movement ... and that the individual man 
saw his mission, not in the elimination of any greater or lesser 
scoundrel, but in fighting for the erection of a new National Socialist 
. . . state.” 38 

In his conceptualization of the SA as a uniformed mass organi- 
zation that would march beneath the open sky, he would pull things 
together in words that “thereby the struggle against the present day 
state was removed from the atmosphere of petty actions of revenge 
and conspiracy, to the greatness of a philosophical war of annihila- 
tion against Marxism.” 39 To emphasize the political function and 
expediency of the SA, Hitler would elaborate that the organization, 
uniform, and equipment of the political storm detachments could 
not reasonably be expected to emulate the models of the old army. 
Presented with words such as those above, dictated in 1925, and pub- 
lished in 1927, the chiefs of staff of the SA from 1927 through 1934, 
Franz Pfeffer von Salomon and Ernst Roehm, nevertheless looked 
upon the SA as a potentially armed military force incidentally 
engaged in street and meeting hall brawls. The biographers would 
claim that few men ever read Mein Kampf and the apparent oversight 
in the cases of Salomon and Roehm would cost the former his job 
and the latter his life. 

But the great biographers themselves seem to have taken liber- 
ties with Mein Kampf that suggest that they have selectively ignored 
passages in it that interfere with their preconceived necessity to dis- 
parage Hitler and the SA. Some of the disparagement supports a 
view that even though Hitler’s autobiography and stunningly ideal- 
istic political testament had been available for them since the begin- 
ning of the era of the great biographers, they seem not to have read 
the two volumes or not to have understood the arguments in them. 
Since, however, with such superior biographies, they must have, in 



fact, both read the book and understood the arguments, we may 
assume that, clad in the invincible armor of their preconception of 
Hitler and his political fighters as evil, they have ignored reality. 

* * * 

In the second most important political action involving Hitler and 
the SA between 1922 and 1933 — the political raid on Coburg— the 
great biographers do not use the event to characterize Hitler and give 
a clearer picture of the SA. Werner Maser, who could be considered 
as one of the great biographers, would generalize about “the ruth- 
lessness . . . with which he and his 800 SA men had smashed popular 
opposition in the streets of Coburg in 1922.” 40 Maser uses the word 
ruthless when the words unshakeable resolve would capture the spirit of 
the moment better, and he goes on to present the Nazis as smashing 
popular opposition. The biographer thereby presents them as 
crushing the opposition of the general body of the people of Coburg 
while leaving us to wonder why the arch-proponent of a German 
mass movement would want to alienate a popular body of potential 
supporters and to wonder about the nature of the opposition. 

Fest presents Coburg in more detail but also spins us away from 
comprehension of Hitler and the times by presenting only half the 
picture of the great event. Fest would note that Hitler made his first 
bold stroke out of Munich and would interpret it as “the first of 
those challenges to the political authorities that were to dominate 
the following years.” 41 We cannot doubt that the foray was a bold 
stroke and a challenge to the authorities. Hitler, however, meant to 
ensure that nationalist demonstrations could take place in Germany 
without disruption or destruction by Socialist and Communist Reds, 
as was the rule in most of Germany (e.g., Prussia and Saxony). He 
would note that “the experience of Coburg had the significance that 
we now began systematically, in all places where for many years the 
Red terror had prevented any meeting of people with different 
ideas, to break this terror and restore freedom of assembly.” 42 



If we were to caricaturize this situation, we would generalize 
that the conventional wisdom presents Hitler as an evil and brutal 
power seeker who would terrorize the whole population of Coburg 
with a “private army” of strong-arm bullies. In the opposite carica- 
ture, Hitler could be imagined to see himself entering in resplen- 
dent armor with accompanying hosts of German political warriors 
dedicated to the salvation of the people of Coburg. The historical 
facts permit us to describe the event, sort out the bias, and perhaps 
even get a superior interpretation of the whole period based on so 
representative an example of Hitler in action. In early October 1922, 
the organizers of a nationalist German Day gathering in Coburg had 
invited Hitler to participate and advised him to bring an escort. 
Sensing opportunity to propagandize the movement outside the 
environs of Munich and to ensure that the Reds who dominated 
Coburg politically would not break up the affair, Hitler “appointed” 
eight hundred SA men as escort. When Hitler arrived, a nationalist 
deputation and a city police captain informed him that the Marxist- 
controlled Coburg trade unions had demanded, and the nationalists 
and civil authority had been forced to agree, not to allow the Nazis 
to parade through the streets to their overnight quarters, notwith- 
standing the festive, patriotic event. 

The Marxists claimed that a nationalist parade would be a provo- 
cation of the proletariat and the cause of worse things — proletarian 
fists would be forced to break up the offending demonstration. Hitler 
defied everyone and marched his men away from the train in a festive 
parade column while accepting police guards to take him to quarters 
in a shooting gallery at city’s edge. The police, however, led him to 
the presumably closer and safer Hofbraeuhauskeller in town center but 
unwittingly through growing abusive crowds orchestrated by the 
Marxists. The police attempted to lock the Nazis into the cellar 
grounds and the Red crowds out of them, but Hitler insisted on 
reforming his parade column and marching to the agreed Nazi quar- 
ters. The disciplined column marched out to the dark cadence of 
drums only, and shortly thereafter came under physical attack by 



Reds throwing rocks and assaulting individual members of the 
column. The Nazis broke ranks and won a memorable daylight street 
battle, scattering the Red crowd and winning the follow-on street 
skir mi shes that were equally furious and continued through the 
evening. The next morning, October 1 5, the Coburg Marxists called 
for ten thousand workers to gather in the main city square at one 
thirty in the afternoon to throw out the Nazis. Hitler ordered his 
parade column, which was scheduled to march as part of the nation- 
alist festivities to the Coburg Fortress, to proceed by way of the 
square, “firmly resolved to dispose of the Red terror for good.” 43 The 
only notable resistance offered to the Nazis was from outside new- 
comers who were not acquainted with the new situation in the city. 
As the Nazis later marched to the train station Sunday evening, the 
local population “broke into spontaneous cheering in many places” 
presumably in support of the wicked Nazis. 

Prior to the tactical battles of the precedent-setting action 
above, Hitler had accurately suspected that a nationalist meeting of 
any consequence would force the Reds to disrupt it. With the 
example of fascist flying columns retaking several major Italian 
cities from internationally styled Communist control earlier in 1922, 
and Hitler’s sense that many German cities outside Munich were 
similarly influenced by Marxists, he decided to make his insolent 
junket. After the earlier November 1921 meeting hall battle in the 
Munich Hofbraeuhaus , the SA had attracted more members and by 
September 1922 had formed eight “hundreds” in Munich, Tolz, and 
Rosenheim, well-organized and disciplined, as evidenced by their 
fast call-up for the passage to Coburg and their combat in the city. 
We see Hitler as will to action, artistic imagination, force, and wild 
fearlessness. The German Day committee had invited Hitler to 
come to witness some tame street festivities and to make a few 
domesticated patriotic remarks at a boring round of droning 
speeches. If ever a messianic personality descended upon an unsus- 
pecting flock, it would have been Hitler and his band of recent 
fanatic converts on the people and the streets of Coburg. 



1 litler earlier had made the decision to attend the congress based 
on some characteristic inspiration influenced by no other man in the 
immediate event: “This [invitation], which I received at eleven 
o’clock in the morning came very opportunely. An hour later the 
arrangements for attending this ‘German Day’ had been issued.” 44 
As concerns his artistically styled imagination, Hitler would person- 
ally conceptualize the hiring of a Reich train with third-class 
coaches to carry the entire party together to Coburg, and he would 
arrive with the most gripping political symbol of the twentieth cen- 
tury, which would be seen on armbands of his SA men and flags car- 
ried by them, and which he had personally designed earlier in the 
summer of 1921. And when the railway workers refused to run the 
hired train back to Munich, Hitler personally and convincingly 
warned them that he would seize all of the Red leaders he could 
hunt down, carry them along on the train now run by his own 
people, and leave to the workers’ imagination what he would do with 
the leaders if anything happened to the train along the way. Hitler’s 
audacity, lack of sense of proportion, and success in all of this must 
leave us interpretively speechless. 

The biographers claim that in Coburg Hitler terrorized the 
workers, smashed popular opposition, 45 had as his objective a propa- 
ganda victory, 46 and carried out the first of those challenges to the 
authorities that would dominate the following years. 47 To support 
the general interpretation of Hitler as will to domination and the SA 
as inhabited by men who could be freely characterized as “thugs,” 
the biographers take liberties with the facts. They claim that Hitler 
defied the city authorities by marching into the city in a parade 
column and thereby caused a street riot. The leaders of the Marxist- 
dominated Coburg trade unions had demanded of the celebration 
organizers and of the police that the Nazis not be allowed to march 
into the city because such an act would be a provocation and result 
in violence by presumably enraged workers. Both the organizing 
committee and the police agreed to the demand, the former through 
some measures of fear and cowardice and the latter through concern 



over the threat of violence by the Marxists. As the actual event 
unfolded, we see that the authorities acted on a demand of the 
Marxists and must acknowledge that Hitler defied an initiative of 
the Marxists and not of the political authorities of Coburg. The 
police faced the challenge of keeping a dangerous mob of Marxist- 
incited sympathizers and toughs away from an equally dangerous, 
although disciplined, marching column of Nazis. 

In this action, Hitler faced several inanities that tended to give 
him a moral edge over his opposition. The organizing committee 
had invited Hitler to a patriotic event typified by marching columns, 
bands, and flags. But as he and the SA arrived and debarked from the 
train, he was directed to straggle through the city, bandsmen silent 
and flags hidden— not a particularly effective or appropriate patri- 
otic demonstration by Germans on German Day. And if provocation 
ever existed in a situation, it would have been Germans being told 
(in Germany, on German Day) that no parade would be allowed 
because such was offensive to internationalist proponents of class 
war. During the rise to power, Nazi leaders of the political organiza- 
tion and fighters in the political army or storm section of the party 
advanced into cities in southern Germany, whose streets were dom- 
inated similarly to Coburg by the street-fighting apparatus of the 
Social Democratic and Communist Parties, with their mass follow- 
ings and often tough and dangerous followers. And as Hitler neces- 
sarily expanded the movement into western and northern Germany, 
the SA began to break into the great Marxist enclaves such as the 
Ruhr, Hamburg, Berlin, and Saxony. In such a situation, it is difficult 
to distinguish among the terrorizers and those Germans who were 
being terrorized. 

Within their frameworks of Hitler biography, authors have 
painted a picture of the SA as one filled with thugs and bullies, but 
the Coburg quintessential SA action does not support so one-sided a 
view. The Coburg authorities, for example, blamed the Marxist-dom- 
inated workers for provoking the violence. It is difficult to refute this 
interpretation, which also puts doubt in our minds about the SA men 


as bare rowdies, at least at Coburg. Kershaw is relentless, however, 
and notes that the police reported that even though the Marxists pro- 
voked the riot, things would have gone peacefully if the “Hitler 
people” had not come to Coburg. The peace, however, would have 
been the peace of a dead German Day celebration passing hardly 
noticed in its timid inoffensiveness, and the Marxists being hardly 
disturbed in their continued intimidating control of a German city. 

As described above Hitler cannot be seen as an evil man engaged 
in an evil deed at Coburg, and the SA men cannot be characterized as 
brawl-provoking bullies and thugs. This generalization does not mean 
that Hitler was not engaged in evil during the rise to power. It does 
mean that in one of the more significant actions launched by him per- 
sonally, accompanied by his early entourage and leading most of the 
SA men in the movement at the time, he and the Nazis came under 
physical attack by an inflamed and dangerous crowd of Marxist 
workers. We can perhaps summarize that those who were used to 
being the terrorizers in Coburg discovered themselves out-terrorized, 
and those who were used to being terrorized found themselves saved. 
And since the police referred to the new force in Bavarian politics not 
as “the Nazis” but as the “Hitler people,” the Coburg populace must 
have sensed, at least dimly, the presence of a savior. 

With its outlandish audacity, the Coburg action would remain 
unique. The Nazis, however, would advance similarly, although 
more slowly and less spectacularly, everywhere in Germany from 
1922 onward. The pattern would be one of the development or 
insertion of leaders and political organizations in the cities and 
larger urban agglomerates of Germany with the purpose of con- 
ducting propaganda and attracting converts. The men of the storm 
section of the party were indispensable for the survival of the Nazis 
because of the strength and violence of the Social Democrats and 
Communists in the urban areas. On the offensive, the SA men had 
the mission to dominate the streets in support of the political orga- 
nization and, in Hitler’s words, to provide a free path for the advance 
of the idea. The free path could be looked upon physically as a street 



in a German city where Nazis could distribute leaflets, affix posters, 
solicit contributions, sell and advertise party newspapers, and pre- 
sent a superior German alternative to the revolutionary energy and 
appeal of the Marxists. 

Hitler would comment that, “in Coburg itself, at least a part of 
the Marxist working class, which incidentally could be regarded 
only as misled, had learned a lesson from the fists of National 
Socialist labor.” 48 With his extraordinary sensitivities as both mass 
and individual psychologist, Hitler intended the SA man to be an 
instrument to impress and overawe Germans but scarcely to ter- 
rorize them more or less promiscuously in the streets. Seen as such, 
Hitler’s SA man of the rise to power represented a kind of visual 
propaganda — the likeness of the new German man. He projected, in 
turn, an image of the party as one of unparalleled vitality, drive, and 
youthful vigor. And in the words of a woman in a Marxist dominated 
town of Lower Saxony, “there was a feeling of restless energy about 
the Nazis.” 49 

* *• *• 

The conventional wisdom nevertheless has presented the SA as a 
band of brutal, thick-necked street fighters dedicated to violence 
almost as an end in itself. The picture is only partly true, largely 
false, and dangerously misleading. Given the importance of Berlin 
and the fame of its new Gaulieteroi 1926, the biographers commonly 
use the Berlin SA to generalize about the entire SA. As noted by 
Fest, “One SA ‘storm’ in Wedding [a northern Berlin Communist- 
dominated district] called itself the Robber Storm, while many 
troopers assumed various desperado names — Potshot Mueller or 
Pistol Packer.” 50 Fest writes that the SA had stores of the classic 
weapons of criminals: blackjacks, brass knuckles, and rubber trun- 
cheons. “In tight situations, they had their molls carry their hand 
guns.” 51 But the biographer does not give us the context in which 
Berlin and the larger Prussian cities were dominated by outright 



majorities or strong pluralities of Marxists, who utterly dominated 
the streets and the political propaganda of the capital. 

When Goebbels took leadership of the newly designated Gau 
Berlin-Brandenburg in early November 1926, Nazi party member- 
ship was below one thousand and split into two warring parts— the 
political organization and the storm section of the political organi- 
zation. Goebbels faced the imposing mission of taking over a city 
with a population of approximately 4.2 million with a storm section 
of only several hundred men. After Goebbels had been in Berlin for 
a year and one-half and Reichstag elections took place in May 1928, 
approximately 39,000 Berliners voted for the Nazis in contrast to 
640,000 for the Communists and 855,000 for the Social Democrats. 52 
Faced with the odds against them in Berlin as reflected in these num- 
bers, the Berlin SA and that of numerous other Marxist-dominated 
German cities — Hamburg, Leipzig, Dresden, Essen, Dortmund, 
Duesseldorf, Wuppertal, and so on — might be interpreted as beer- 
swilling rowdies but scarcely as bullies in the face of the numerical 
odds against them in the streets of the great cities of Germany. The 
Nazis had bottomed out in the May 1928 Reichstag elections, but 
even in the greatest triumph of the rise to power in the July 1932 
elections they found themselves outnumbered two to one by the 
Marxists in Berlin. Even in the election of the latter time in Munich, 
the half-mystical geographical origin of Nazism, the Marxists out- 
numbered the Nazis in followers with 37.6 percent of the vote com- 
pared with 28.9 percent for Hitler’s supporters. 

These numbers demand a reevaluation of the balance of political 
intimidation — ’’terror” — in German city streets, especially in the 
period of Hitler’s enforcement of a strategy of legal takeover from 
1925 through 1933. The biographers have continued to paint the SA 
man as a dark and brutal street fighter while neglecting to provide the 
quite amazing context such as that found in early Berlin, where the 
Nazis found themselves outnumbered in 1928, thirty-eight to one in 
terms of supporters. Under such circumstances, Goebbels showed 
monumental audacity in provoking brawls with the street-fighting 



apparatuses of the Marxists, the SA man exhibited extraordinary 
pugnacity and bravery, and the “hundreds” into which he was orga- 
nized possessed a remarkable spirit. This does not mean that the 
Berlin SA man was not a brutal street brawler and thug, but that if he 
were, he would have been a noteworthily courageous street brawler 
and thug. If we cast aside the exaggerated propaganda-tinged charac- 
terization of the SA man as thug and agree on his descriptor as a man 
capable of street brawling, we come up with a man willing to risk 
death or wounding in the tough street encounters that culminated in 
the year 1932 . The antithesis of the biographers’ thug can be found 
in SA standard leader Willi Veller, who wrote the following lines in a 
letter of August 1930 to Gregor Strasser: 

In my work for the NSDAP I have faced a court more than thirty 
times and have been convicted eight times for assault and battery, 
resistance to a police officer, and other such misdemeanors that are 
natural for a Nazi. To this day I am still paying installments on my 
fines, and in addition have other trials coming up. I have been more 
or less severely wounded at least twenty times. 1 have knife scars 
on the back of my head, on my left shoulder, on my lower lip, on 
my right cheek, on the left side of my upper lip, and on my right 
arm. Furthermore, I have never claimed or received a penny of 
party money, but have sacrificed my time to our movement at the 
expense of the good business I inherited from my father. Today I 
am facing financial ruin. 53 

The word thug, with its synonyms of criminal, crook, hoodlum, 
outlaw, and sociopath, somehow does not fit Willi Veller and prob- 
ably not the overwhelming majority of SA men, even in the difficult 
days of 1925 through 1933 . So how do we interpret the half of the 
NSDAP intended by Hitler to exert force in order to protect and 
project the movement of the other half? As early as February 1920, 
Hitler had sensed the necessity for “a house guard in the form of a 
monitor service ” to keep order in the early mass meetings of the 
German Worker’s Party. 54 He had previously employed comrades 



from the infantry regiment barracks in which he had lived during the 
first seven months of his entry into the party to evict disruptive 
leftist hecklers. He formed an Ordnertruppe, or stewards troop, to act 
as bodyguards for speakers and as ushers and athletic types to evict 
meeting disrupters. Part of this Ordnertruppe , which was first headed 
by the apprentice watchmaker, war veteran, Freikorps member, and 
Hitler bodyguard Emil Maurice, would evolve into an initially small, 
ultraelite bodyguard force for Hitler known as the Schutzstaffel (SS or 
protective detachment), commonly known as the SS. Most of the 
Ordnertruppen of the party would evolve through the Athletics and 
Sport Detachment of the spring of 1921 and into the SA in August 
of the same year. By this time, Hitler had perceived through histor- 
ical example of the Marxists and his own unique instincts that he 
would need some instrument of unarmed force to protect the spread 
of the idea. In any case, Hitler understood force as indispensable to 
create the perfect German community and envisioned the SA man 
as a paragon of the fighter for such a community: 

How many a time the eyes of my lads glittered when I explained 
to them the necessity of their mission and assured them over and 
over again that all the wisdom on this earth remains without suc- 
cess if force does not enter into its service, guarding it and pro- 
tecting it. 55 

For the SA man, Hitler demanded a will to succeed in an 
expressed heroic German mission, against greater odds, if necessary, 
than ordinary men would consider facing, odds that would paralyze 
action. In this context and with his historical style of thought, Hitler 
would note that “without suspecting it, a German general succeeded 
in finding the classic formula for this miserable spinelessness: ‘I act 
only if I can count on fifty-one percent likelihood of success.’” 56 
Hitler would elaborate that in this 51 percent lay the tragedy of the 
German misfortune because anyone who demanded of fate a guar- 
antee of success w'ould automatically renounce any idea of a heroic 
deed. He would demand iron will and offensive elan, and would link 



it with physical prowess. It remains difficult to generalize about what 
he actually got in the real SA men, but we must be impressed by 
Hitler and his forty-six in the Festsaal of the Hofbraeuhaus in 1921, 
Hitler and his eight hundred in Coburg in 1922, and Goebbels and 
his handful in Berlin from 1926 through 1932. Given the similarly 
organized Marxist street-fighting formations and the similar tough- 
ness of their members, and if we accept the interpretation of SA men 
as beer-swilling bullies and thugs, we could generalize that a smaller 
number of beer-swilling Nazi thugs stood opposed to a greater 
number of beer-swilling Marxist thugs in the meeting halls and 
streets of Germany throughout the Nazi rise to power. But Hitler 
maintained that “the young movement, from the first day, espoused 
the standpoint that its idea must be put forward [as inspired by a holy 
mission], but that the defense of this spiritual platform must if nec- 
essary be secured by strong-arm means.” 57 Hitler seems to have been 
looking for true believers with athletic builds and an urge to battle, 
and photographs of the period show a surfeit of young men who, at 
least visually, fit the bill. 


* * * 

The great biographers have claimed that Hitler personified con- 
tempt for the masses and used his propaganda mastery over them to 
increase his own personal power and to feed his urge to dominate. In 
an undisguised flight of outlandish bias, one would compare Hitler 
with Richard Wagner by claiming that “they were masters of the art 
of brilliant fraudulence, of inspired swindling.” 58 And with Hitler 
described thus as a charlatan, the biographers tell us that his brilliant 
propaganda was fraudulent, based as it was on contempt for the 
masses rather than admiration for them and with the purpose to pull 
them together into a single community. In passages in Mein Kampf bn 
the subject of propaganda, Hitler would postulate that “the recep- 
tivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, 
but their power of forgetting is enormous.”-'’ 9 And Hitler would elab- 



orate that “the masses are slow-moving . . . and only after the simplest 
ideas are repeated thousands of times will the masses finally 
remember them.” 60 Writers use such statements by Hitler to support 
a view that he felt the masses to be mean, vile, and worthless — 
contemptuous. The interpretation and its intent to devaluate Hitler 
falters in the face of the context in which it was offered, Hitler made 
these characteristically bold generalizations as realistic principles of 
mass psychology that had to be addressed in order to conduct effec- 
tive propaganda. Hitler was not opining contemptuously that the 
individuals in his audiences were vile and mean but that these indi- 
viduals, when presented in masses or crowds, represented a different 
mass psychology. It is one thing to despise the broad masses and a 
different thing to point out, as Hitler did, their fundamental charac- 
teristics around which the psychologist had to work in order to 
spread revealed truth as opposed to political doctrine. When Hitler 
said, for example, that the masses have an infinite capacity to forget 
important truths that therefore have to be addressed repeatedly, this 
does not translate into contempt for them but rather into knowledge 
of mass psychology and the necessity to take account of it. 

* * * 

Most biographers and historians agonize over the period of 1919 
through 1933 in terms of the question: I low was it possible for a man 
so base, common, and evil as Hitler to have come to dictatorial polit- 
ical pow 7 er in a nation so cultured as Germany? Since this general- 
ization about Hitler has been taken as unarguable fact, the w'riters 
proceed, in varying detail, that although the Germans were notably 
cultured, they were naive about parliamentary politics. There is 
room to challenge the notion of the naivete of Germans in politics 
given the development and accomplishments of the Social Democ- 
ratic, Center, Conservative, and other parties of the Second Reich 
from 1871 through 1918. The Social Democratic Party, for example, 
had become the largest, best organized, and strongest .Marxist polit- 



ical party on the face of the earth during that period, and the model 
for all others. Bismarck and following chancellors had managed to 
work with the German parliamentary parties by the mid- 1890s to 
bring into play in Wilhelmine Germany the most advanced and 
humane social programs of any major power of the world, including 
the usual model democracies of France and Britain. And even the 
piece de resistance offered by historians to illustrate the horrors of 
German political naivete — Ludendorff as military dictator during 
the later part of the war — is comfortably balanced by the signifi- 
cantly dictatorial powers by 1917 of Clemenceau, joined later by 
Marshal Ferdinand Foch in France, and the largely uninhibited 
powers of a war cabinet in Britain in 1916 headed by Lloyd George, 
the erstwhile munitions minister and master propagandist of World 
War I. The conventional wisdom leaves us with the picture of a 
wicked, despicable man brought to power significantly through the 
political naivete of the German public. 

The accepted wisdom has elaborated that the more democrati- 
cally experienced French and British survived the war’s aftermath 
without falling prey to a Hitler-like figure. As that wisdom brings the 
word democratic into play, it accompanies it with the spectral words 
German militarism , suggesting that a population associated with such 
words and without an adequate grounding in real democracy would 
more easily succumb to Hitler. The reading public, however, is not 
presented with the necessary context of modern Europe in which the 
palm in “militarism” must go the French and Imperial Russians as 
exemplified by two Napoleons and various and assorted Alexanders 
and Nicholases. And lest the British disappear from any balanced con- 
sideration, they must take the palm in “navalism” — policies of aggres- 
sive naval preponderance identical in spirit to that of “militarism” — 
and be rebuked for their contribution to wars large and small across 
the entire earth beginning in the mid-eighteenth century. Whereas 
Hitler has been accused universally, although not necessarily accu- 
rately, as desiring the elusive quantity described as world domination, 
the British had come close to actually achieving world domination 



with the vaunted Pax Britannica as it existed at the turn of the cen- 
tury. These factors of militarism and experience in democratic poli- 
tics are overused in explaining Hitler’s popularity with Germans. 

The single most important factor that separated the French, 
British, and American peoples from the Germans of the period of 
Hitler’s rise to power was the defeat of the latter and the victory of the 
former in World War I. This vast historical circumstance need not 
have led to either a World War II or a Hitler. The Allied governments 
and peoples, however, would assign the entire blame to Germany for 
its alleged planning, starting, and inhumane conduct of the war- — this 
assignment remains recorded in two grand historical documents to the 
present day, specifically the allied ultimatum to sign the Versailles 
treaty and the treaty itself. These documents highlight the vindictive 
spirit of the era that, along with the French enforcement of the treaty, 
pointed the way to Hitler as ethereal savior figure. 

At the end of the drive to power, the twelve-year-old Egon Han- 
fstaengl, during a vacation stay with Hitler at Haus Wachenfeld in the 
Bavarian Alps, could recall enticing him outside with the words: 
“Herr Hitler, a devoted multitude is eagerly awaiting your appear- 
ance at the gateway.” After Hitler went out to greet his admirers, 
Egon could recall that “they nearly swooned . . . and one hysterical 
lady picked up some pebbles on which [Hitler] had stepped and put 
them in a little vial which she crushed to her breast.” 61 And inside 
the house, Egon would describe that during the numerous meal 
times “Hitler was rather gracious, for his standards. I mean he didn’t 
make you remember all the time that he was the Fuehrer. As a rule, 
Hitler never converses, he either listens, or — more commonly — 
preaches, making his utterances as though they were endowed with 
the authority of revealed religion.” 62 

During the period of his rise to power, biographers recounting it 
after the fact and contemporaries describing it during the fact pre- 
sent wildly different views of 1 litler. In a brief but appalling lapse of 
credibility, Fest offers the words: “And yet we hesitate to call Hitler 
great. Perhaps what give us pause is not so much the criminal fca- 



tures in this man’s psychopathic face.” 63 The great biographers all 
debunk Nazi theories of racial differences, which they characterize 
as pseudoscientific and based on unredeemed prejudice, yet one of 
them could claim confidently, without hint of countervailing possi- 
bility, that the subject of his biography had criminal features set in a 
psychopathic face. If anything should give pause, it would be the 
combination of the prejudice and irrelevance of the claim in any 
attempt to interpret Hitler. In a different vein, Hubert R. Knicker- 
bocker would comment, based on close personal observation, that 
“the outstanding characteristic of his physiognomy [peculiar config- 
uration or characteristic expression of the face] is his dreamy look 
. . . there was in his eyes the look of a seer.” 64 In photographs from 
1914 through 1933, Hitler often presented a dreamy, distant gaze in 
which characteristically he stared through the lens and the photog- 
rapher toward something beyond. The effect is exclusively associ- 
ated with his right eye — the left eye from the perspective of the 
viewer of any photograph. The great biography by Werner Maser 
has two full-page photographs side by side in which the September 
1914 winner of the Iron Cross, Second Class (ribbon, third coat 
button down) is juxtaposed alongside the 1925 author of Mein 
Katnpf 65 The look on the western front is distant, the eyes half 
asleep, the effect that of the presence of an imperious seer. The look, 
the eyes, the effect in the carefully posed indoor political piece with 
the ghostly presence of the Iron Chancellor hovering over Hitler’s 
left shoulder, are unmistakably similar. In the visual counterparts, 
the right eye is somnolent and hypnotic and the left wider-open and 
more ordinary. 

Since we cannot accuse Hitler in 1914 of striking a Fuehrer pose 
in the absence of a Nazi movement, and yet the same moody, trance- 
like qualities are obvious in both pictures, we must suspect that some 
of what the biographers interpret as contrived was Hitler being 
Hitler. We have ample evidence to show Hitler striking heroic poses 
for the serious purpose of placing the image of the Leader in front 
of Germans. The biographers also present a picture of Hitler by 



1922 developing as a drummer or prophet of the coming of a great 
one who would save Germany. But on the verge of linking the canny 
political simplifier with the man consumed by a messianic revelation 
of German destiny, as it were, linking the left eye in the Hitler por- 
trait with the right one, the biographers falter. They drop the reader 
in 1933 with an unsavory, contemptuous propagandist quite unbe- 
lievable as a man who could make new Germans, relieve Germany 
of the misfortune of 1918, and march it to victory over everybody 
and everything by August 1941. 

* * * 

After the seizure of power, Hitler would look back on the years 
1919-1933 and reveal much of himself in commenting that “Other 
generations — they learn of sagas of heroes, the expeditions of 
heroes: we have lived this saga, we have marched together on this 
expedition.” 66 He would reveal the great spiritual landing place of 
the expedition in characteristically historical terms: “When yes- 
terday [November 7, 1935] a new war-flag for the Reich was hoisted. 

. . . For the first time since Germans appeared in the world there is a 
single Reich, dominated by a single view of the world, protected by 
a single army [in World War I there were four “German” armies, 
namely those of Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, and Wuerttemberg] and 
all that united under a single flag.” 67 We see a German national 
movement based on faith and will and applicable singularly to 
Germans. And viewed as such, Nazism would bear a striking resem- 
blance to Judaism with its absolute exclusivity. There would be so- 
called fascist movements throughout Europe, but only ethnic 
Germans or closely related peoples could practice Nazism as only 
ethnic Jews could genuinely practice Judaism. What greater irony 
could there be historically than the collision of two self-adjudicated 
chosen peoples? 

Hitler as anti-Semite has continued to present a code unbroken for 
the period of his rise to power and, hence, unbroken for his entire life. 



The great biographers have maintained that Hitler has remained an 
undeciphered code but have done so because they have underesti- 
mated the wrong man. The conventional wisdom has accurately gen- 
eralized that Hitler was affected by Romantic, heroically rendered his- 
tories of Aryans and Germans and the similarly rendered epic operas 
of Wagner. Here we see Hitler as hero. The same wisdom has general- 
ized that Hitler had only talentless pretension as painter and architect. 
Here the conventional wisdom is inaccurate and instead we must see 
Hitler as artist. What flashes of insight came to the young aspiring 
Hero and developing artist that led to the anti-Semitic storm begin- 
ning in late 1919? First, and more or less unarguably, we see him rec- 
ognizing the Jews not as a conventionally recognized religious body but 
realizing them to be an enduring nationality — a cohesive ethnic group- 
ing that incidentally discovered an elitist religion that served to cement 
the nation. Second, and also more or less unarguably, he received the 
inspired insight that this dispersed political nation had created 
Marxism, which had become its political combat arm. The biographers 
have underestimated the historical sweep and astounding coherence in 
Hitler’s anti-Semitism. They have also undervalued Hitler by prefer- 
ring to present him as a dilettante with a garbled anti-Semitism char- 
acterized by intense, emotionally conditioned hatred of Jews. 

In the young years from 1919 through early 1922, Hitler gave 
ample evidence of hatred of Jews, and the view of him as raging, 
emotional anti-Semite seems to exist from the beginning of Nazism 
and dominate to the end. But curiously undigested by the conven- 
tional wisdom is his quite amazing letter as a common lance corporal 
to Captain Mayr on the subject of the Jews, presenting a coldly rea- 
soned, historically coherent foundation for a rational philosophy of 
anti-Semitism and not the ordinary superficially rendered diatribe 
of others. How is it possible for the arch emotional enemy of the 
Jews to have produced such a document in 1919 and claimed later, 
in 1924, in his dictation of Mein Kampfi that he wrestled mightily and 
objectively with the question of anti-Semitism and came to quite 
objective conclusions about the menace from world Jewry? 



The biographers present the familiar Hitler created for their 
reading public as the hate-filled, raging, emotionally charged per- 
sonal enemy of the Jews. Hitler seems to explain the picture of the 
virulent, noisy street and written tract anti-Semitism of the Nazis to 
set the stage for the later physical destruction of the European Jews. 
This Hitler interpretation ever-so-subtly, however, may slip by 
reality because of the personal nature it claims for his anti-Semitism 
and the probable explanation in terms of personal frustration in his 
life as aspiring artist. This interpretation cannot credibly explain his 
April 1924 final trial vow to become the destroyer of Marxism and 
his early 1930s concentration on the destruction of the parliamen- 
tary political system of the November Criminals. There are too few 
Jews in the picture of Hitler’s anti-Semitism of 1922 through 1933 
to explain Hitler in terms of visceral, emotional, all-consuming yet 
peculiarly noisy hatred of Jews. And Hitler’s totally functional inter- 
action with Jews on an immediate personal level, in Linz, Vienna, 
pre-war Munich, and during World War I, does not support a view 
of Hitler as a personal or emotional anti-Semite. Hitler would dic- 
tate the words in Mein Kampf that “on grounds of human tolerance, 
I maintained my rejection of religious attacks in this case as in 
others. Consequently, the tone, particularly that of the Viennese 
anti-Semitic press, seemed to me to be unworthy of the cultural tra- 
dition of a great nation.” 68 

Because of his intellectual predilection and thoughtfulness, 
Hitler cannot be seen as a religiously oriented and fantasy-bound 
anti-Semite, and we are driven to suspect that his anti-Semitism was 
incredibly distant and idealized. The Jews, in effect, were a detached 
historical force and not a group of human beings in any ordinary 
sense for Hitler. Seen as such, the Jews could scarcely have been an 
object of unrestrained, thoughtless hate but rather as the ideal per- 
sonification of evil. Through reading of ancient myth and modern 
newspaper and tract, study of history, and passionate thoughtfulness, 
Hitler educated himself on the “Jewish question.” In doing so he 
claimed objectivity, noting for example that the anti-Semitic news- 



papers he read “did not enjoy an outstanding reputation,” and that 
he “regarded them more as the products of anger and envy than the 
results of a principled, though perhaps mistaken, point of view.” 69 

As Hitler carried on his studies, especially between 1908 and 
1910, he linked the Jews with the editors and writers of the great 
Viennese “world newspapers” and discovered the Zionist movement, 
with its developing mission to establish a Jewish political state in a 
large part of the Sanjaq of Jerusalem and Vilayet of Bairut (Beirut) 
in the Ottoman Turkish Empire — present day Israel-Palestine. 
Hitler would dictate the ominous objective reality in Mein Kampf 
that there could be no such thing as a German Jew (i.e., a German 
who happened to profess Judaism as a religion), because every Jew 
in Germany had to be a political Jew with primary allegiance to a 
great dispersed political nation that incidentally, by 1924, was in the 
early stage of establishing a Jewish political state in the British 
League of Nations Mandate of Palestine. 

Hitler, however, also witnessed in Vienna the propaganda and 
street presence of Marxist socialism and became outraged by the 
stealing away of German workers in the great metropolis from their 
German national identity and their conversion into part of an inter- 
national class of “workers.” The thoughtful, brooding, explosive, ide- 
alistic, heroically inclined, very young Hitler must have sensed the 
impending destruction of the Germans by Jews, Marxists, parlia- 
mentarians, and Slavs. Sometime in the middle of the Vienna period, 
probably no later than the turn of 1911 and in the midst of objec- 
tively styled self-study, Hitler would experience an inspired revela- 
tion that the Jews and the Marxists were one and the same and the 
mortal enemy of the German Aryans. This Hitler would carry this 
revelation out of Vienna, into prewar Munich, away to Flanders, and 
back to postwar Munich, where war, revolution, and chance con- 
spired to deliver him to the Sterneckerbraeu in September 1919. 

Hitler’s anti-Semitism must be fit into so vast a picture, and one 
in which the entire pre-history and history of the German Aryans 
was pitted against the same situation with the Hebrew Semites. 



Against this context of Hitler’s anti-Semitism, the best the biogra- 
phers and historians have been able to produce is an image of a 
superficial young man who had become seized by a crude, brutal, 
and lethal anti-Semitism. With such an image, the conventional 
wisdom guides us into an interpretation of his anti-Semitism as a 
morally defunct focus on a single propaganda enemy. The conven- 
tional wisdom would have us believe that the moral defunctness — 
the evil — in his anti-Semitism resided in the singling out for attack 
of an innocent, unoffending, and helpless people. The evil 
demanded in such a case for Hitler, however, would be far worse if 
it could be shown that he attacked the Jews in order to bring himself 
to power as a German tyrant because of the criminal psychological 
necessity to possess power. But Hitler would combine convincing 
historical argument, unconvincing contemporary observation, and 
near-incontrovertible claim of Jewish and Marxist internationalism 
into a fearsome picture of an idealized enemy. Hitler discovered 
Jews and Marxists who were so vast and idealized that they could not 
credibly be considered as tactical creatures designed to increase the 
effect of propaganda or to advance toward the goal of seizing polit- 
ical power for their own sakes. Faced with the vastness of Hitler’s 
anti-Semitism and anti-Marxism, the conventional wisdom has 
acknowledged that he was a convinced ideologue, that he actually 
believed his own propaganda. But interpreting Hitler as a political 
ideologue misses him as badly as interpreting him to have been a 
demagogic propaganda adept. 

The full measure of Hitler’s anti-Semitism can be seen in the con- 
trast between his vision of a heroic Germany and that of a demonic 
enemy. Hitler’s ideal Greater Germany was so antipodal to his ideal 
enemy that the whole business must be understood as one in which 
Hitler seized followers based on their faith in his vision of a resur- 
rected people. Hitler had faith in an impending German resurrec- 



tion and was its voice, eyes, and messenger. As early as October 1923, 
in a conference concerning a march on Berlin, a right wing military 
man recalled that “Hitler now had definite Napoleonic and Mes- 
sianic ideas. ... He declared that he felt the call within himself to 
save Germany and that this would fall to him, if not now then later. 
He then drew a number of parallels with Napoleon, especially with 
the return of Napoleon from Elba to Paris.” 70 But Napoleon would 
slip out of Elba and march on Paris to save his dynasty and recon- 
stitute an imperial France. Hitler would contemplate a march on 
Berlin more simply and heroically to save Germany. Hitler would 
recoup the low of April 1924 by vowing to become the destroyer of 
Marxism, and as such, axiomatically, to become the savior of Ger- 
many. In 1925 he would even dash off a visual representation of 
German salvation in his extraordinary sketch of a vast, domed struc- 
ture seemingly suspended in space and apparently pulling together 
out of his inner mind a vision of Germany united and saved. 71 

By 1933, too many Germans saw Hitler as a messiah to support 
the propagandistically styled conventional view of Hitler as tyrant 
over Germany. If, for example, Hitler could be conceptualized and 
accepted by a plurality of Germans as a messiah, it becomes difficult 
to accept an interpretation of him as a tyrant, for messiahs can 
hardly be seen to tyrannize over consenting disciples, followers, and 
sympathizers. How can a messiah tyrannize — rule with unjust and 
oppressive severity— when his followers and sympathizers accept 
his revelation and work toward it? The religious prophet of the 
Arabs, Muhammad the Praised, cannot be seen to have tyrannized 
over them, notwithstanding his absolute control over converts to 
Islam. By March 1933, when 43.9 percent of voters in the Reichstag 
election voted essentially for him and his vision, Hitler cannot be 
seen as having to tyrannize over those who voted for the Nazi list of 
candidates. The remaining 55.1 percent of Germans voting presents 
a different picture, but all were German citizens, some were nation- 
alists, many were patriotic bourgeois, and many were Social Democ- 
rats, themselves patriotic in a conventional manner. And since Hitler 



had come to power legally, these Germans would be forced to 
acknowledge the play of legal parliamentary events in early 1933 
which had been shielded by the authority of the president and the 
power of the army. Only the Communists fall out of the historical 
equation above as disciplined Soviet Russian-styled international- 
ists. They were a mortal danger to all German political parties, and 
if they could not be converted back to Germans by the Nazis, they 
would be “tyrannized.” 

In such a picture we cannot see Hitler as a study in tyranny but 
rather as a study in the conversion of the Germans to faith in Ger- 
many: “It was my aim to make new Germans” are the words that 
reoccur out of Mein Kampf to illustrate the whole period from 1919 
through 1933 as the dawning of an intended German age. Yet even 
though the conventional wisdom since Bullock would unfailingly 
present Hitler as driven by the historical notion of the superiority of 
the earlier culture-bearing Aryans and the mission to save the con- 
temporary German Aryans, it has interpreted the same period as one 
in which Hitler drove to power in order to tyrannize over the people 
who he would save. 

Chapter 6 


H itler would prove to be a study in extraordinary tempo in 
his foreign policy of the 1930s. He would also be a study in 
similar tempo in his nationalization of the Germans. If German his- 
tory were to be seen as grand opera unfolding in the 1930s, Hitler, in 
his second alter ego as Wagnerian hero, could be understood not only 
as lead voice but also as conductor in a piece interpreted entirely in 
tempo prestissimo. France would be a study in France being France, and 
Britain would be a study in Britain being Britain. The biographers 
would be studies in their disembodiment of the period 1933 through 
1939 from the context of the times — namely, /979through 1939. The 
historians and biographers would present a homogeneous interpreta- 
tion of the period as one in which a vile and depraved man broke 
international law and violated the sanctity of treaties. The same 
scholars would present the same vile and depraved man as one who 
terrorized selected parts of the German population. Scholars would 
be forced to consider that Hitler nevertheless effected a spiritual and 
material resurrection of the Germans so great that the interpretation 
of him as a bad man who did some good might actually be possible, 
even though it is so unthinkable. In all of the above, however, the con- 
ventional wisdom has handled Hitler as if he were a personal nonen- 
tity and extraordinary propagandist writ inexplicably large as a vil- 
lain. There can be no more flagrant misunderstanding than to 
consider Hitler as being personally ordinary, conducting propaganda 
as popularly construed, and acting merely villainously. 




The biographers have given us a rich, descriptive account of 
Hitler during the period, but none has presented an overarching 
interpretation that credibly and realistically accounts for the 
astounding tempo of the alleged international criminality and sim- 
ilar pace of the domestic synchronization of Germany with the Nazi 
movement. The biographers have presented a tired theme of inter- 
national aggression in the 1930s and domestic totalitarianism. The 
theme is exhausted because it has been repeated by every great biog- 
rapher and presents Hitler as an international criminal and domestic 
terrorizer of the leaders of Marxism and the entire, although 
diminutive, body of Jews in Germany. The interpretation is exagger- 
ated in the case of the international picture, accurate in the case of 
the internal violence, but leaves us with an understated picture of 
Hitler pulling the remaining approximate 99.5 percent of the popu- 
lation out of the economic depression. Hitler, for example, would 
personally turn the first spadeful of earth that symbolized the begin- 
ning of the construction of the Autobahnen on September 23, 1933 on 
a bank of the Main River near Frankfurt. These architecturally styled 
engineering masterpieces centered on great ribbons of concrete road 
surfaces and inclusive bridges. They would employ an average of one 
hundred thousand workers yearly, stimulate the motorization of Ger- 
many, and further German national unity. Earlier, on February 11, 
1933, only twelve days after having become chancellor, Hitler gave 
the opening address at the International Automobile and Motorcycle 
Exhibition on the Kaiserdamm in Berlin. In the speech, he would ele- 
vate the automobile industry to be the most important of the future 
and link it with a vast program of road construction. He would simul- 
taneously advance the idea of a people’s car for Germans — a Volksauto 
— and link it with the Autobahnen. 

The most recent great biographer, Professor Ian Kershaw, would 
trivialize Hitler’s role in this conceptualization and implementation 
of the motorization and superhighway-altering of Germany. He 
would maintain derisively that Hitler, “lacking as he did even the 
rudiments of economic theory,” 1 could hardly have been called an 



economic innovator, and that his “propaganda instinct, not his eco- 
nomic know-how led him toward an initiative that both assisted the 
recovery of the economy (which was beginning to take place 
anyway) and caught the public imagination.” 2 The great biographer 
thus would denigrate Hitler as being an economics cipher and oper- 
ating largely with instinct for propaganda effect. But Hitler, alone 
and with remarkable vision, took advantage of the chance event of 
the Berlin international exhibition to deliver a psychological mas- 
terpiece that projected a motorized Germany complete with more 
and better roads. We see a distinctive Hitler, complete with lack of 
sense of proportion, unerring instinct, its alter ego, genius, and con- 
stant companion, luck. He would project the idea in February, push 
aside bureaucratic argument of the transport ministry and Reichsbahn 
(German Railways system), and create a German Motorways Enter- 
prise headed by Dr. Fritz Todt answerable by the end of November 
1933 only to himself. 

In what was an outsized undertaking, we have an opportunity to 
test the conventional wisdom’s interpretation of Hitler. It is difficult 
to assign depravity and evil to Hitler for his conceptualization and 
implementation of the building of a Reich motorways system. He 
saw the advertising of such a system so early as the second month of 
1933 as a psychological tour de force to restore morale in Germany 
and boost his own popularity. It is difficult to the point of impossi- 
bility, however, to assign popularity and implied power as the pri- 
mary motives for the Reich motorways. Since we are attempting to 
place Hitler within the context of his actual life rather than within a 
preconception of meanness, it is easy to discover his adolescent pro- 
ject of the underground rail system through Linz. The presence of 
transportation systems in both projects is eye-catching but largely 
incidental. Once our eye has been caught, however, we see two iden- 
tically functioning Hitlers. In the younger one, we detect an inspired 
vision of an architecturally perfect Linz with everything else subor- 
dinated to the vision — cost, international rail line, workers’ flats, and 
so on. In the adult Hitler, we detect an inspired vision of a civil engi- 



neering architectural masterpiece intended not only to be the psy- 
chological basis for the social motorization of Germany but also a 
visual movement to its glory. 

Hitler would claim, for example, to have already determined 
before he came to power “that immediately [after] the government 
fell into our hands I would begin the preliminary work for the pro- 
duction of a car whose price would enable it to become a real means 
of transport for the great mass of the people. By this means the 
motor-car would at last cease to be an instrument of class division.” 3 
And in utterly vintage Hitler, echoing his stress on heroic proportion 
as necessary for heroic action, he would exclaim in a speech that “in 
[the] case of the German people there is a demand not for two to 
three hundred thousand, but for six to seven million motor-cars!” 4 
This social motorization and these autos would be possible only with 
an enlarged road system, which in turn would be centered on the 
new superhighways. Hitler would point out later, as the Reich 
motorways project had developed by the end of 1937, that “the 
system of Autobahnen is the largest building undertaking in the world 
and already, with a displacement of 240 million cubic meters of 
earth by far exceeds the building achievement of the Panama 
Canal.” 5 We see little evil in the project, although Kershaw would 
interpret him as exploiting the transitory psychological effects of 
announced motorization and super highway construction and then, 
by some dark miracle, as sending the right signs to a gloomy auto- 
mobile industry We thereby miss the more substantial Hitler who 
would not only retain his propaganda instincts but would also be 
driven to accumulate another mighty achievement. 

And the automobiles and Autobahnen cannot even be connected 
with the potential for evil in rearmament. Even though some lesser 
biographers and greater historians would link automobiles and 
superhighways with military purpose, the German Army would 
advance against France so late as 1 940 with only fourteen motorized 
divisions out of a total in the attack of 120, that is, it would remain 
largely horse drawn and foot marching. And the same army would 



transport itself about Europe by railway, in moves of any significant 
distance, for the entire war. For Hitler, automobiles and superhigh- 
ways represented a grand project of social change and heroic archi- 
tectural dimension that would add up to inspired achievement. 
None of this proves that Hitler was a nice person, but all of this 
warns us that he moved from inspiration to inspiration at the outer 
edge of reality for all others. And as concerns how he fit his archi- 
tectural masterwork into his artistic vision of the world, he would 
comment in an unguarded moment that the Autobahnen would 
become his Parthenon. 

In the face of the above visualization and action by Hitler, the 
biographers’ title of dictator similarly does not convey the measure 
of the man. We can recall Hitler today as having been German chan- 
cellor but we cannot characterize him as such for posterity. He was 
more than that. In the second case, we are told today that Hitler 
would fasten dictatorship on Germany and as the dictator wreak 
havoc in Europe, but we cannot adequately characterize him as 
having been a dictator. He was more than that as well. With greater 
comprehension, we can see him by August 1934 not as a political 
dictator who had come to full power in Germany but as the private 
individual, Adolf Hitler, who had crushed the Marxists and had 
begun to build new Germans. From such a perspective we can more 
adequately see Hitler as a messianic furnace — the dark destructor of 
the Communists and the savior of the Germans. As the destructor of 
1933, he w r ould move on to become the leader of the march of a syn- 
chronized Germany toward its revealed eastern destiny. We have 
neither chancellor, politics, nor dictator here, but rather messiah, 
destructor, and destiny. 

Favored by circumstance, chance, and his own personality, Hitler 
would subdue German domestic opposition in the astonishingly brief 
period of the year 1933. And well before the end of the following 
year he would accomplish a final reckoning with the unmanageable 
leadership of the Sturmabteilung (SA). Germany stood exhausted by 
the divisive and dysfunctional style of parliamentary democracy 



under pressure and its latest incapacity to master the depression. 
Germany stood disadvantaged and outraged by the continuing dis- 
abilities enforced under the Versailles treaty by vindictive French 
governments. And if this were not enough, Germans remained intim- 
idated by the Communist armed uprisings of the 1920s, street vio- 
lence of the early 1930s, and incessant bloody verbiage — shortly 
before the Reichstag fire, the official Communist news organ, Red 
Sailor “openly called for violence: Workers to the barricades! Forward 
to victory! Fresh bullets in your guns! Draw the pins of the hand 
grenades!” 6 The same Communists in the immediately preceding 
Reichstag election had managed to attract six million voters, who 
accounted for 1 7 percent of the votes cast. We are presented with the 
fact of six million Germans being exhorted to pull the pins on six 
million hand grenades, presumably to be thrown in the direction of 
other Germans. The Communists, with their internationalist revolu- 
tionary intentions, cries of havoc, and proven capacity for violence, 
would be seen by most Germans as a clear and present danger to the 
security of the republic. The Communists characteristically painted 
themselves into inane corners and escaped damage due to lethargic 
and fearful hesitation on the part of republican authorities to take 
action against them for incitation to armed rebellion. 

On February 24, however, the new Prussian minister of the Inte- 
rior, Hermann Goering, apparently took the incitation at face value, 
ordered the police to raid the Karl Liebknecht House in Berlin, and 
claimed to have seized large quantities of incriminating documents. 
Earlier in the month, on February 4, the government had brought 
out the decree for the protection of the German people, prepared a 
year earlier to combat Communist violence associated with the 
Berlin transport strike. Hitler, Franz von Papen as vice chancellor, 
the cabinet, and Goering (particularly in his role as head of the 
Prussian state police) were genuinely concerned about Communist 
violence, particularly in terms of a general strike. Within this frame- 
work, Goering would order the Prussian police to combat organiza- 
tions hostile to the state. The Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands 



(KPD or Communist Party of Germany) was the organization more 
hostile than any other to the existence of a German nationalist state 
and any other kind of German state and bore the brunt of the attack. 
And since Hitler equated the seizure of power with the annihilation 
of the Marxist internationalists, it can be no surprise that Goering 
curtailed Communist newspapers, street demonstrations, meetings, 
and any attempts to interfere with nationalist activity. 

Within two months, based largely on the destruction of the 
Communists and other opponents through the use of emergency 
decrees, Hitler had subdued the Reichstag and manipulated the pas- 
sage of the Law to Remove the Distress of the People and the State, 
passed on March 23 and promulgated the next day. This law altered 
the constitution by enabling the national cabinet to enact laws pre- 
pared by the chancellor. 7 Within four months, Hitler produced a 
propaganda triumph in the skillfully orchestrated Day of National 
Labor on May 1, followed almost immediately by the dismantling of 
“the largest democratic trade union movement in the world” — the 
German Social Democratic Party — and the establishment of the 
German Labor Front. 8 Within six months, Hitler had suppressed, or 
convinced to self-liquidate, every political party in Germany. Within 
twelve months, Hitler and his darkly menacing boys Goering and 
Roehm, joined by tens of thousands of lesser disciples, who worked 
toward him with or without immediate direction from above, had 
created a state in which Germans began to sense that they were 
becoming bound together for some greater purpose than simply 
escaping the depression. 

The situation above has become well-known, but through 
incompleteness and bias, the biographers have not used it to give us 
a better comprehension of Hitler. For the Reichstag election agreed 
to by President Paul von Hindenburg for March 5, 1 litler personally 
provided the slogan for both the Nazis and the government as 
“Attack on Marxism.” For a chancellor expected reasonably by most 
Germans to pull them out of the Great Depression, they could more 
reasonably have expected a slogan like “Attack on Unemployment.” 



With consistently not associated with ordinary politics, Hitler would 
continue to illuminate the Marxists as the chief enemies of Ger- 
many and to present every National Socialist with a target for attack 
during the Reichstag election. Goering, for example, as Prussian 
Interior minister, would order the state police to cooperate with the 
SA, the Schutzstajfel (SS), and the Stahlhelm , and then, on February 22, 
to incorporate them as auxiliary police to support national propa- 
ganda and to combat organizations hostile to the state. In the imme- 
diately following days, an overwhelming combination of police, SA, 
SS, and Stahlhelm operatives paralyzed Communist political action. 
The Communist Party had played to perfection the role of an orga- 
nization hostile to the state, and the Prussian police were able, on 
February 24, to raid and search its Berlin headquarters building and, 
not too surprisingly, find subversive literature. Goering would 
embellish the report of this finding into Communist plans for a mur- 
derous uprising and isolate them from support or sympathy of the 
German population. 

No evidence exists to show that Hitler and his initiative-filled 
followers at any level had intentions other than to maintain effective 
levels of violence and intimidation through the Reichstag election 
scheduled for March 5. It is a monument, therefore, to the play of 
chance in the lives of world-historical personalities that chance pre- 
sented Hitler with the surprise danger and opportunity of the 
Reichstag arson. Hitler and Goering were obviously surprised by the 
event, and notwithstanding the sarcastic and confident claims of 
authorities so disparate as the Manchester Guardian and German 
Communists that the Nazis had set the fire, we cannot seriously 
accept such views. 9 At an improvised meeting the same evening in 
the Prussian Ministry of the Interior, for example, they remained in 
so ineffectual a state that it took National State Secretary Ludwig 
Grauert to keep his head and suggest an emergency decree for 
Prussia aimed to control acts of terror in that state. By the next 
morning, however, the Reich minister of the Interior came up with 
a draft decree for the protection of people and state that would 



apply to the entire republic — the target of the supposed terrorist 
conspiracy, after all, had been a German one in the form of the 
Reichstag and not the Prussian Landtag. The decree as put into effect 
later in the day placed emergency power over the entire Reich in the 
hands of the Reich government. In the words of Kershaw, “the 
hastily constructed emergency decree amounted to the charter of 
the Third Reich.” 10 There was not a factual hint of conspiracy on the 
part of Hitler and the Nazis in the event. And in the rush of histo- 
rians to present them in an unfavorable light, none has commented 
on the presumption of a Communist-inspired citizen of a foreign 
country to enter Germany and burn to the ground its national par- 
liament building for the purpose of precipitating successful interna- 
tionalist revolution in that country. Accused and convicted as an 
arsonist, Marinus van der Lubbe, handled by all writers as a lumpish, 
deranged pawn, would in fact accomplish his mission of accelerating 
events in Germany toward the destruction of the republic. He would 
do so, however, through the irony of Hitler and the Nazis affecting 
its destruction and even quicker obliteration of the KPD. 

Although enabled legally to dismantle the KPD, Hitler would 
permit the Communists to continue in the election campaign, win 
close to five million votes, and seat the impressive number of eighty- 
one deputies in the Reichstag. He would press immediately for leg- 
islation by the new Reichstag that would enable the National Cab- 
inet to pass laws that might deviate from the constitution. The piece 
of legislation would “alter” the constitution and require Hitler to get 
a two-thirds majority for the passage of the act, thus making the 
eighty-one Communist votes critical in any calculation of success. 
Hitler allowed the Communists to seat deputies in the Reichstag and 
then legally, under the emergency decree of February 28, arrested 
them — a strategy that comprised an odd mixture of ruthless, lawful, 
bloodless elements. He nevertheless still faced daunting prospects in 
the mathematics of March 1933. The two Marxist political parties — 
Social Democratic and Communist — controlled almost 31 percent 
of the seats in the Reichstag, only a hairbreadth from the magical 33 



percent required to defeat the bill. It is not so much, therefore, that 
Hitler cleverly removed the Communists from the voting but that he 
had to remove them, cleverly or not. Even so, the Social Democrats 
alone would retain a percentage of votes in opposition so large that 
Hitler would require the support of the difficult, independent 
Catholic Center Party to pass the bill. And the whole business was so 
closely run that the Center Party would decide only at the end of 
the recess preceding the vote (i.e., only minutes before) to cast a pos- 
itive bloc vote, notwithstanding various objections. 

Hitler had mastered challenges almost beyond comprehension to 
present himself shortly after two o’clock in the afternoon of March 
23, 1933, as German chancellor before the first business session of a 
newly elected Reichstag. It has remained literally true that Hitler, 
who fewer than fourteen years earlier had been an unknown soldier 
still living in a Munich army barracks, had, through some fateful 
combination of blind chance and conscious intent, projected himself 
into the Knoll Opera House. In his first appearance before the 
German parliament, he would read off a speech that was remarkable 
for its prudence and moderation. 11 In a second, unplanned appear- 
ance later in the day, he would reveal himself as in few other 
moments in his life, and no biographer can do better than to show 
how and why this was so. 

As the voting unfolded after six o’clock in the evening for accep- 
tance or rejection of the Enabling Act, Otto Weis, chairman of the 
Social Democratic Party, moved to the speaking platform and deliv- 
ered the refusal of his ninety-four remaining deputies to vote in 
favor of the act — twenty-six additional deputies were missing due to 
arrest, flight, and so on. The great biographers comment variously 
that his refusal was courageous, moderate, dignified, low-key, and — 
although poorly delivered — ended movingly by upholding princi- 
ples of humanity, justice, freedom, and socialism held dear by Social 
Democrats. 12 But Hitler would advance on the speaker’s podium in 
immediate, instinctive fury ignited probably by outrage over Weis’s 
presumption as a Marxist to claim that the Social Democrats were 



capable of having actual German policies. Hitler had been observed 
taking notes during Weis’s discourse; and, impromptu, Hitler would 
deliver a masterpiece of spontaneous invective that characterized 
himself as vengeful savior and that has furnished us with a salutary, 
revisionist picture of Social Democracy as seen through the eyes of 
a notable contemporary critic. 

Hitler, the human cultural wilderness of the great biographers, 
would point his finger at Weis and utter a quote from a work by Ger- 
many’s greatest dramatist, Johann C. F. von Schiller: “You come late, 
but still you come.” In this spontaneous quote, Hitler told the Social 
Democratic leader that his democratized Marxists had had fourteen 
years to put in effect their “pretty theories” and had achieved no 
more than ruination and division in Germany. And now, late in the 
game, indeed, at the end of the game, they would have the raging 
temerity as a parting shot to lecture Germans on the principles that 
had supported their misfortune. Hitler would make telling points 
that comprise the ultimate revisionist interpretation of the incident. 
In Prussia, the dominating German state, the Social Democratic 
Party with only a modest plurality, had run the government holding 
the positions of minister-president, interior minister, Berlin police 
commissioner, and so on, during the entire period 1919-1933. Weis 
would argue that criticism of the present government was salutary 
or healthfully conducive to a superior political situation and to per- 
secute it would accomplish nothing. Hitler would argue that when 
the Social Democrats governed Prussia, Nazi criticism of the 
Marxist government was not seen as salutary, and Hitler’s followers 
were vigorously persecuted. As counterbalance to the conventional 
wisdom’s attribution of moderate, enlightened social democracy to 
the Social Democrats, Hitler would present the following picture 
from experience as one of their opponents: 

You talk about persecution. 1 think that there are only a few of us 
here who did not have to suffer persecution from your side in 
prison. . . . You seem to have forgotten completely that for years 



our shirts were ripped off our backs because you did not like the 
color. . . . We have [progressed beyond] your persecutions. 

You say furthermore that criticism is salutary. Certainly, those 
who love Germany may criticize us, but those who worship an 

Internationale cannot Here too insight comes to you very late 

indeed, Mr. Deputy. You should have recognized the salutariness 

of criticisms during the time we were in opposition In those 

days our press was forbidden and forbidden and again forbidden, 
our meetings were forbidden and we were forbidden to speak and 
I was forbidden to speak for years on end. And now you say criti- 
cism is salutary! 

You also say that not even we can abolish Social Democracy 
because it was first to open these seats here to the common people, 
to the working men and women and not just the barons and counts. 

In all that, Mr. Deputy, you have come too late. Why didn’t you, 
while there was still time, make your principles known to your 
friend Grzesinski, or your other friends Braun and Severing [all 
Social Democrats and, respectively, Berlin police commissioner, 
Prussian minister-president, and Prussian Interior minister] who 
for years kept saying that I was after all only a house painter! For 
years you asserted that on your posters And finally you threat- 

ened to drive me out of Germany with a dog whip. 

From now on we National Socialists will make it possible for 
the German worker to attain what he is able to demand and insist 
on. We National Socialists will be his intercessors. You, gentlemen 
are no longer needed! . . . And don’t confound us with the bour- 
geois world. 13 

And to summarize his outrage and scorn, he would put together 
the following words — distinctively Hitler, with their characteristic jar- 
ring combination of cerebral analogies, prophetic vision, and passion: 
“My feeling is that you are not voting for this bill because by the very 
nature of your mentality you cannot comprehend the intentions that 
animate us in asking for it . . . and I can only tell you that I do not want 
you to vote for it. Germany will be free but not through you !” 14 

Kershaw transforms the words above into “the most savage of 


|’ er man peasant husband and wife — essence of the Volk of the countryside in the early 1900s. (Painting 
■' ^Ibin Egger-Lienz. Husband and Wife, Study for Life Cycles, 1910. Private collection.) 

Hitler as Fuehrer, President, and Reichskanzler, comforting a woman overcome by private grief, No- 
vember 9, 1935. ( Image courtesy of the Arthur S. Alter collection, Hoover Institution Archives.) 

^ er man architectural pavilion. Paris Exhibition of 1937, designed by Albert Speer and approved by Hitler. 
n ente “Will to Culture.” (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.) 

Hitler, profile view (left) and full-face view (right), wearing party-style shirt, September 24, 1938. 
(Stolfi private collection .) 

German dispatch courier in World War I. Hitler was 
a courier in a frontline infantry regiment for more than 
four years — this could easily have been a sketch of 
Hitler. Survival: miraculous. (Sketch by Elk Eber. 
Dispatch Courier, 1938-1939. Private collection.) 

Hitler on his fiftieth birthday being congrat 11 ^,^ 
by a helmeted bodyguard. (Image used with p er ^ 
sionfrom the Associated Press from New Y° r 


Hitler stylishly attired at a diplomatic social affair with Italian foreign minister Count Galeazzo Ciano 
(far left). May 22, 1939, in Berlin. Note the omnipresent Iron Cross First Class and wound badge on Hitler’s 
tunic. ( Image used with permission from the Associated Press from New York.) 

'her with a distant, messianic stare, the right eye in particular unfocused. Polish foreign minister Josef Beck, 
contrast, looks as an ordinary human being on camera. ( Image courtesy of the Arthur S. Alter collection, 
°over Institution Archives.) 


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War in the west. “The single episode depicted in this image is of no importance. Nor will anyone mistake the 
soldiers’ heads for portraits. The viewer is influenced by the mystical content rather than the episode of 
portraits.” — Robert Scholz. ( Painting by Paul Mathis, Padua, 1941. Private collection.) 

Hitler visits Luftwaffe Flak Unit in the Ukraine, midsummer 1942. He is immaculately uniformed a 
looks exceptionally relaxed for that time in the war. (Image courtesy of the Arthur S. Alter colU ctl 
Hoover Institution Archives.) 



replies,” 15 and Joachim Fest saw them as characterized by “bravura 
1 crudity and zest for crushing an opponent.” 16 We can just as well see, 
however, Hitler tearing into shreds Weis’s protestations of the moral 
superiority of the Social Democratic position, and doing so based on 
the artistically imaginative application of a quote from a notable 
dramatist and iron consistency in sticking to the theme of the past 
fourteen years of Social Democratic rule of injustice, persecution, 
false accusation, and threat of violence. At a representative juncture 
in which the Marxists could be considered to have been destroyed, 
namely, the successful vote in favor of the altering of the constitu- 
tion, Hitler ignited as spontaneous passion. Kershaw would charac- 
terize the rejoinder as one in which “departing now from the relative 
moderation of his earlier prepared speech, Hitler showed more of 
his true colors.” 17 As concerns true colors, the biographer would 
note bullying tactics. But Hitler had had no intent to bully anyone in 
his Reichstag speech and had delivered a moderate, statesmanlike 
address intended to convince the deputies to master the German 
crisis decisively. Only when stung by Weis’s pretension of concern 
for German national honor and a German foreign policy and protes- 
tations of support for justice, democracy, socialism, and so on, did 
Hitler explode as a fiery, avenging messiah. Perhaps, though, Weis 
drove Hitler over the edge of the functional persuasion in his pre- 
pared remarks by final, ill-advised greetings “to his friends and vic- 
tims of persecution.” 18 In any event, the biographers see Hitler as 
consciously adding to a maturing Fuehrer cult and being an 
immoral, criminal historical figure, even though he had acted spon- 
taneously in delivering his attack against the Social Democratic 
Weis, who he did not consider to be a personal enemy but rather a 
personification of Germany’s misfortune. 

* * * 

I he great biographers point out ad infinitum that Hitler was harsh and 
cruel as a dictator and support this contention with his rough han- 



dling of the Marxists and Jews in Germany from 1933 onward. They 
do not effectively present the harshness and cruelty — as it were, the 
evil — in terms of the numbers of people affected and in a way that 
gives us a superior comprehension of Hitler. Hitler’s raison d’etre from 
1919 through 1933 can be seen retrospectively to have been the 
destruction of Marxism and the making of new Germans after the 
internal poisoners of the people had been destroyed. Such cannot be 
understood in terms of either politics or personal pique but rather as 
mission inspired by revelation. Hitler looked upon Marxism as nei- 
ther a political nor a personal enemy but as an opposing historical 
philosophy marked necessarily for destruction if National Socialism 
were to succeed in making new Germans. The sheer physical dimen- 
sion of Marxist socialism in Germany, as reflected in the March 
Reichstag elections in which 7.18 million Germans voted as Social 
Democrats and 4.85 million as Communists, presented Hitler with 
yet another insuperable task as characteristically courted by the man. 
just how did Hitler proceed in order to “destroy” the 31 percent of 
Germans reflected in the voting numbers above? He evidently 
divided the Marxists into those who could be “destroyed” as Marxists 
by being converted into Germans and those who could not. Given his 
messianic qualities, Hitler evidently felt capable of saving the vast 
Marxist rank and file by converting it into a vast German Host. After 
all, in Hitler’s mind, the Social Democratic and Communist workers 
were Germans misled by a fanatic leadership elite incapable of con- 
version and marked for extinction. 

The Marxist leadership elite would present a special proposition 
to destroy, and Hitler would sanction the arrest and internment of 
the Marxist leaders in aptly named concentration camps. Goering, as 
Interior minister of Prussia, established the first concentration camp 
in March 1933, and Himmler, as a lesser figure at the moment with 
his office as police president of Munich, would set up an official camp 
during the same month only a few miles from that city at Dachau. 
During the remainder of the year, several additional camps were set 
up and the Marxist leadership was “destroyed” by being deposited in 



political internment camps. Prior to the National Socialists coming to 
power in Germany, the Social Democratic-controlled government of 
the state of Prussia had established a secret state political police as 
organized under a Berlin Police Bureau and with a mission to protect 
the government against both right and left wing subversive elements. 
Since the Social Democratic Party controlled the Prussian govern- 
ment during the entire period of 1919 through mid-1932 by means of 
a plurality of seats in the Prussian Landtag, it is a supreme irony of 
the interwar period that the Social Democratic leaders themselves 
began to be concentrated as subversive elements into internment 
camps by their own secret state police organization, now packed with 
Nazis and redirected in mission. 

The conventional wisdom has presented Germany thereby as a 
police state exemplified by the concentration camps that came into 
existence in March 1933 and matured during the period 1933-1939. 
The wisdom has presented the situation in terms such as “the fero- 
cious repression of the Left” and has necessarily left the impression 
of a Germany carpeted with such camps. 19 Given Goering’s energy 
and Himmler’s persistence, the camps for Marxist functionaries 
would seem to have accomplished their purpose by 1935. In the 
summer of that year, with Himmler now in control of a unified 
German police, the great biographers give the number of internees 
as a minuscule 3,500. At that time, as the concentration camp system 
seemed to have become dormant, Himmler would exploit the con- 
cept of “protective custody” to include additional categories of Ger- 
mans that could menace state security and dilute the qualities of a 
heroic National Socialist Germany. Himmler and his first lieutenant 
Reinhard Heydrich, leader of the Reich Security Service, the pre- 
mier political counterintelligence service in Germany by 1935, 
would begin to expand beyond Marxists, Jews, and Freemasons as 
those who could menace internal security. New categories would 
include undesirables such as “gypsies, homosexuals, beggars, antiso- 
cial, work-shy, and habitual criminals.” 20 As a result, the number of 
persons detained in concentration camps would rise from 3,500 in 



summer 1935 to 25,000 in 1939. Most would have been arrested with 
the order: “Based on Article I of the Decree of the Reich President 
for the Protection of the People and the State of 28 February, 1933, 
you are taken into protective custody in the interest of public secu- 
rity and order. Reason: suspicion of activities inimical to the State.” 21 
In 1935, therefore, Hitler’s “destruction” of the Marxists could be 
equated with the 3,500 concentration camp internees — mostly 
former Marxist functionaries and the reorganization of the several 
mill i ons of Marxist-influenced workers into the German Labor 
Front. It is a remarkable circumstance that Hitler and Himmler, his 
determined proponent of an Aryanized National Socialist Germany, 
could have considered that so tiny a number of Marxist leaders 
detained would assure German internal security. The population of 
Germany in 1935 was approximately sixty-eight million, and the 
presence of 3,500 inmates in concentration camps cannot support 
any view of a pervasive concentration camp system. By 1939, how- 
ever, Himmler had increased the number to 25,000 “dangerous unde- 
sirables” in concentration camps. But the population of Germany had 
risen to approximately eighty million through acquisition of Austria 
and Sudetenland and through the effects of a rising birthrate. This 
number of internees in ten camps within the Germany of September 
1939 also does not support a view that there was a system so pervasive 
that Germans and foreign visitors would sense its physical presence. 
On the other hand, Hitler uncannily appointed Himmler as Reichs- 
fuehrer SS, the perfect inquisitor, who established control over all 
police in Germany and established a single, central Reich Security 
Service Office with a single Secret State Police Office, all of which 
“provided everything necessary for the spiriting away of active oppo- 
nents and the ruthless policing of every corner of the Reich.” 22 The 
realistic generalization can be made that through the independent 
zeal of a faithful, deep, and abiding follower, Hitler set in place 
during the 1930s a body of men that was capable of maintaining the 
internal security of the Reich. For all his alleged slavishness to Hitler, 
Himmler showed remarkable initiative, boldness, and tenacity in 



piecing together the body of men into an SS that had the primary and 
foremost duty to attend to the protection of the Fuehrer “but also the 
widened duty ... to secure the interior of the Reich.” 23 And to under- 
stand the pervasiveness of the somewhat underpopulated concentra- 
tion camp system of the 1930s, we must understand that it was char- 
acterized more by Hitler’s will and Himmler’s zeal and less by 
numbers of opponents and undesirables interned during those years. 

As concerns evil, Hitler is painted as illegally undermining the 
constitution, interning the Marxist leadership, and beginning a more 
lengthy process of depriving the Jews of citizenship. These accusa- 
tions are made to apply to Hitler interpreted as emerging dictator, 
and within such an interpretation, they are largely valid. The consti- 
tution, however, had been made possible by Marxist revolution and 
had been created by bourgeois politicians and lawyers. And as the 
underpinning of divisive, parliamentary governments, it could not 
be seen by Hitler as German. Hindenburg nevertheless, as the ulti- 
mate representative of all things German and supported by the 
army, adhered to the document and thereby forced Hitler to do like- 
wise — to stick to a policy of legal takeover of Germany. In the role 
assigned to him by the conventional wisdom as power-hungry, dem- 
agogic dictator, Hitler can be seen as having evil and illegal intent in 
his erosion of the constitution. As savior of the Germans and their 
messianic, infallible leader, however, he could not have seen himself 
as engaged in evil by the incremental erosion of such a document — 
nor could most Germans by mid-1933. 

On the other hand, and seen as self-anointed man of destiny, 
Hitler exuded an urge to violence in the defense of the Germans. As 
such, he could hardly shy away from the application of force in the 
internment of the Marxist leadership. Hitler saw himself as locked in 
a prodigious struggle between the forces of good and evil in which 
the loser would face annihilation. Neither he nor his followers nor 
many other Germans could have seen much evil in the relatively 
mild internment, especially of the Communist leaders in the period 
of 1933 through 1935. The Communists had led numerous armed 



uprisings and conducted threatening and intimidating propaganda 
and street violence. Yet the great biographers would present the 
Communists during the great election campaigns of the early 1930s 
as no danger any longer to the Germans. Under such an interpreta- 
tion, the Communists would take on the cast of a body of Germans 
attacked exaggeratedly by Hitler in speeches and then persecuted by 
his government in 1933. Reality would seem to be that the Commu- 
nists had been and would continue to be a threat to the Germans who, 
in turn, would be relieved to see Communist leaders interred. After 
1935, however, Himmler, with his command over both the German 
police and the SS, converted the internment camps into collection 
centers for undesirables. The relatively mild evil of the internment 
camps evolved into the greater evil of the collection centers. 

As concerns “the Jews,” Hitler took action largely in reaction to 
events. With his accession to the German chancellorship, party 
activists pressed violence from below on “opponents, Jews, and 
anyone else getting in the way of the Nazi revolution.” 24 And 
“Without any orders from above, and without any coordination, 
assaults on Jewish businesses and the beating up of Jews by Nazi 
thugs became commonplace.” 25 Kershaw’s powerfully insightful 
thesis that Hitler’s power lay in the initiative-filled action of his fol- 
lowers working toward him came into play and would be reflected in 
a kind of noisy, street anti-Semitism, undirected by either Hitler or 
Himmler. Well-organized Jews in America in late March 1933 would 
attempt to put in place a worldwide boycott of Germans goods and, 
somewhat ignominiously, Hitler would be forced to react to the 
Jewish action with one of his own, namely the imposition of a one- 
day “counter-boycott” of Jewish businesses in Germany on April l. 26 
The situation was bizarre: Hitler, impelled by the American Jewish 
Congress, to take action against the German Jews. It gives us insight 
into Hitler because, as Kershaw would claim, “as usual, when pushed 
into a corner Hitler had no half-measures.” 27 In important chal- 
lenges, Hitler indeed had no half-measures. But to imply that when 
pushed into a corner he would gamble on all-or-nothing actions in 



the manner of a petulant, power-accruing political dictator, docs not 
fit Hitler. 

Faced with the challenge in 1919 to do something about Ger- 
many’s national agony and not forced into any corner to do so, Hitler 
would set himself the mission to take power in Germany and create 
an ideal German Reich — mission: impossible. Faced with the 
problem of the international Jewish initiative of late March 1933 
and forced to take some action to solve it, Hitler would react with his 
peculiar finality. He would frame a boycott that would affect every 
Jewish business and professional office in all of Germany and be of 
indefinite duration. His intended action was the beginning of official 
government anti-Semitism and could be seen as the beginning of the 
march toward his decision in 1942 to exterminate the Jews of 
Europe. Based on complex circumstances, Hitler would execute the 
boycott for only one day, and the concept of “tackling” the Jews with 
a single massive economic blow would be replaced by the incre- 
mental disenfranchisement of the Jews as German citizens. 

With discernment and a wish to comprehend Hitler, we can cap- 
ture him in this moment. Kershaw, ironically because of his lack of 
intent to do so, would snare Hitler in the words: “Goebbels would be 
summoned to the Obersalzberg. In the loneliness of the mountains, 
he wrote, the Fuehrer had reached the conclusion that the authors, or 
at least the beneficiaries of the foreign agitation — Germany’s Jews — 
had to be tackled. “ 28 How can we fail to see a messiah? In the snowy 
wilderness of early spring in the German Alps, with no man advising 
him and believing himself to be in communion with Providence, 
Hitler would make the decision. We do not see Hitler closeted with 
cabinet ministers of his new government and we do not see him in 
chambers with the highest-level figures of the party. We see Hitler 
solicit advice from no one, ponder the problem with astonishing 
intensity, and act according to solitary inspiration. Isolated, yes, but 
the messiah does not get world-historical inspiration — breathe in the 
will of Providence, destiny, or fate — by discussing action to be taken 
with either bureaucrats or acolytes. This man would seem to be a 



more plausible Hitler than the shabby power seeker and crude ideo- 
logue of the great biographers. 

* * * 

As concerns the year 1933 and Hitler, in his initial foray into foreign 
policy, he would remove the German representatives from both the 
world disarmament conference, which was meeting at Geneva, and 
the League of Nations, under whose auspices it was being held. 
Hitler would begin the most successful and rapid string of diplo- 
matic victories in modern European history with these two related 
actions. It follows that they should provide decisive clues to the per- 
sonality of the man, the international situation in Europe in 1933 , 
and the approach of the nearly Europe-wide war in 1939 . The great 
biographers and modern European historians, however, do not pre- 
sent the year 1933 as part of an already existing continuous march 
toward the 1939 war. The Allies as exemplified by France, and France 
as personified by Clemenceau and Poincare, had perpetuated the 
accusation that the German government and the entire German 
people were solely responsible for war in 1914. The judgment was 
vindictive, cruel, unjust, and baseless, but it underlay every para- 
graph of importance in the treaty and had given the Allied govern- 
ments license to disarm Germany when the treaty came into effect. 
The Allied action was unprecedented in modern European history; 
for example, Bismarck’s government after its victory over France in 
1871 had done nothing to restrict the size of France’s army through 
means of the treaty of Frankfurt. 

The Allies, however, were aware of the radical and unjust reduc- 
tion of the numbers of the German army to one hundred thousand 
and wrote into the Versailles treaty that the action was to be the first 
step toward world disarmament. After the League of Nations took 
over the task of administering the Versailles treaty, it established a 
committee to organize a world disarmament conference that, after 
five years of preparation, first met in February 1932 in Geneva. 



During that year, the negotiation took on the appearance of a battle 
between the French and the other fifty-nine delegations over the dis- 
armament of France downward to some level equal to a revised level 
upward for Germany. But the League faced imposing obstacles to 
change because, in the view of numerous historians and experts 
“above all, the League was manifestly an organization managed by 
the victors for the preservation of the status quo” 29 And Lloyd 
George could add in speaking of Poincare that, “under his influence 
...the League became not an instrument of peace... it was con- 
verted into an organization for establishing on a permanent footing 
the military and thereby the diplomatic supremacy of France.” 30 
Franz von Papen, German chancellor of mid-1932, would instruct 
his foreign minister, Konstantin, baron von Neurath, to demand 
equality in armaments, with the main point being for the other 
powers to reduce theirs to the German level. Neurath would end his 
statement of the German position of early September 1932 by- 
noting that “no one can expect Germany to tolerate further discrim- 
ination that affects our honor and threatens our security.” 31 The 
German position was so strong and timely that the League of 
Nations issued a communique on December 1 1, 1932, that “the Gov- 
ernments of the United Kingdom, France, and Italy have declared 
that one of the principles that should guide the Conference on Dis- 
armament should be the grant to Germany ... of equality of rights in 
a system which would provide security for all nations.” 32 

Fewer than two months later, Hitler would arrive as German 
chancellor and project himself on the international scene as if from 
some distant galaxy. He would agree with Papen and Neurath on the 
necessity for German equality of treatment. And he would be in 
tune with Germans for relief from a treaty that was characterized by- 
hatred and arrogant disregard for historical fact. When the negotia- 
tions began again in February 1933, Hitler faced the dangerous 
international situation of being forced to negotiate some new level 
of armaments for Germany because of the combined strictures of 
the Versailles treaty and membership in the League. As concerns 



foreign policy, therefore, Hitler arrived as chancellor in the midst of 
a world disarmament exercise in which the possibilities for German 
armaments ranged from continuation of a disarmed Germany 
through a Germany with a 300,000-man army with France armed 
likewise. It is difficult to imagine Hitler and the Germans armed thus 
attacking anyone, and we are left to wonder how he would extricate 
himself from so impossible a situation. 

Only the following supreme irony of the interwar period would 
allow him to make his first great foreign policy move. Faced with 
French intransigence toward any change in existing armaments and 
German demands for equality, British Prime Minister Ramsay Mac- 
Donald presented a draft convention in early 1933 that the French and 
US governments accepted and, on May 17, Hitler did likewise. The 
accepted draft convention called for France and Germany to have equal 
armies of 200,000 men in five years. The French government, however, 
during the adjournment of the conference from June through October 
4, prevailed on the governments of Britain and the United States to 
accept an “amendment.” The proposed French amendment to the 
accepted draft convention: no change in armaments for four years while 
the world could observe if Germany were ready to return to a peaceful 
community of nations, and only after eight years the beginning of some 
measure of rearmament. The French government thereby reattached 
moral approbation to the German people and delayed the beginning of 
German rearmament for an additional eight years. The French govern- 
ment expected that the Germans would accept the controls and the 
moral condemnation as probationers but succeeded in driving them out 
of both the disarmament conference and the League. 

The above scene represents the first international action that led 
toward World War II in which Hitler was involved as the statesman 
representing Germany. He had had nothing to do with the prepara- 
tion of the conference and any of its meetings prior to February 
1932. He directed the acceptance of the MacDonald draft conven- 
tions and had every expectation that he would be ensnared by the 
accepted convention in drastically limited rearmament for several 



years. But in a scene similar to the Paris Peace Conference, the 
French government would impose its will on the British and Amer- 
ican governments to accept modified conventions. The erstwhile 
Allied governments had apparently forgotten nothing and learned 
nothing, and Hitler could proclaim justifiably, on October 14, that: 

After the German Government, on the basis of the express recog- 
nition of German equality of rights, had recently declared itself 
willing to resume its participation in the deliberations of the Dis- 
armament Conference, it was late communicated to the Foreign 
Minister of the Reich and to our delegates . . . that this equality of 
rights could no longer be granted. 

Since the German Government regards this action as a dis- 
crimination against the German people which is as unjust as it is 
degrading, under such conditions ... it feels itself no longer able to 
take any further part in deliberations which could lead only to fur- 
ther “Diktats!” 33 

With these words, and others similar, Hitler led Germany out of 
the League disarmament talks. We know also from his speech of Feb- 
ruary 1933 to the senior officers of the treaty Reichsheer that swift 
rearmament would be indispensable for the regaining of German 
influence internationally. Although Hitler had a case morally supe- 
rior to that of the French in the immediate events of September and 
October, he stands indicted as intending eventually to advance east, 
including the possibility of armed action and the outbreak of World 
War II. Various French governments, however, dismantled all 
attempts at reasonable and timely disarmament. For so deplorable a 
policy, the French government and most specifically Edouard Her- 
riot, must be indicted in 1933 for steering France toward a likely 
armed confrontation with Germany and the same result of World 
War II. We can generalize that Hitler’s towering vision of a future 
Third Reich was counterbalanced by various French governments’ 
visions of the continuation of French military domination of western 
Europe. In the face of the above situation, biographer Fest has sug- 



gested that if Hitler had been challenged on his action to depart from 
the disarmament conference, the world might have been spared 
much. He might have added that if the French governments of 1919 
through 1933 had replaced their vindictive intransigence with poli- 
cies more functional, the world may have been spared Hitler. 

We know why Hitler made his decision, but we remain less cer- 
tain about whether he made it as dictator or, less despicable although 
still quite terrifying, as messiah. Papen, as chancellor in 1932 and 
vice chancellor in 1933 and 1934, had innumerable close dealings 
with Hitler and has left valuable impressions. Papen was an intelli- 
gent, conservative, Christian gentleman of considerable cultural 
attainments and was neither admirer nor fanatic enemy of Hitler. He 
would note that the power of Hitler’s personality was difficult to 
describe. “There was little hint of either domination or genius in his 
manner or appearance, but he had immense powers of persuasion 
and an extraordinary and indefinable capacity for bending individ- 
uals and . . . the masses to his. Even people who differed from him 
fundamentally became convinced of his sincerity.” 34 And as Hitler 
wrestled with the decision of how to react to the Geneva negotia- 
tions, Papen gave the following insight into Hitler’s decision making. 

It had become known to both Papen and Neurath with the 
reopening of the disarmament talks on October 4 that Hitler intended 
shortly to pull out of both the talks and the League. Papen and Neu- 
rath agreed with the decision to abandon the talks, but Papen 
“opposed with utmost vehemence” the decision to withdraw from the 
League. As events began to unfold quickly, Papen attempted to con- 
tact Hitler in the developing crisis. Quite remarkably, Hitler had left 
for Munich where he could conduct no serious government business 
and would seem to have been out of touch with the whole situation. 
Papen followed him there the same Friday night “and the next 
morning spent several hours with him in the bourgeois surroundings 
of his flat.” We witness therefore the vice chancellor of Germany dis- 
cussing with the chancellor the most momentous foreign policy deci- 
sion of 1933 — not in Berlin, but in Munich, in the middle of Hitler’s 



weekend getaway. Hitler slept on the matter Saturday night, and 
Papen described the next day’s scene: “He walked into my room [at 
the Hotel Vier jahreszciten | in a state approaching exaltation. ‘It is all 
quite clear to me now. . . . There is only one solution and that is to 
withdraw from the League. We must make a clean break. All other 
considerations are completely irrelevant.’” 35 We suspect that Papen 
presented himself as one who attempted to restrain the wicked Nazis 
from leaving the League with all of its possibilities for resolving inter- 
national crises peacefully. But in the seemingly incidental detail of the 
encounter, we get invaluable insight into how Hitler functioned. 

As inveterate Bohemian and susceptible to no bureaucratic 
restraints — “get the car, Schreck, we’re going for a drive”— Hitler 
had fled to the relaxed, familiar, and silent surroundings of his 
Munich apartment. As messiah, necessarily infallible and perma- 
nently on duty as concerns his mission, he gravitated into isolated 
situations in which he could ponder challenges. Papen unwittingly 
presented a realistic Hitler, although only as background detail to his 
own heroic efforts to preserve and fortify peace. Hitler, “in a state 
approaching exhalation,” had evidently received an infallible inspi- 
ration. Hitler showed imposing pragmatic skills in politics and was in 
the advanced state of establishing political control over Germany by 
1933. Yet the words Hitler used to describe his first great foreign 
policy decision cannot be seen as comprehensible in terms of polit- 
ical dictatorship. His words have a ring of prophetic surety and 
finality as opposed to that of foreign policy maneuvering, and he 
seems to have communed with destiny to reach an unalterable deci- 
sion. We know what Goethe said when he conceptualized Napoleon 
as the World Spirit clattering by on horseback in the street of a 
German city, but what would he have said if he had seen Hitler drive 
by in a three-axle Mercedes® touring car? Over and above his aston- 
ishment at the advanced technology, he could hardly have been 
heard to exclaim: There goes an unsavory, power-driven dictator. 



Hitler had founded the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP or German 
Workers’ Party) in 1919, founded the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche 
Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP or National Socialist German Workers’ Party) 
in 1920, and had pieced the latter together as a political organization 
and a political street- fighting detachment. He had made it clear as 
early as 1925 in writing that the party storm detachment would exist 
to brawl with Marxist toughs in streets and to overawe German 
onlookers on sidewalks. The two most prominent leaders of the 
Sturmabteilung (SA), Franz Pfeffer von Salomon and Ernst Roehm, 
however, preferred to see it as a thinly disguised, potentially armed 
force that would be capable of seizing political power and replacing 
the treaty army. As one great biographer would succinctly gener- 
alize: “The disagreement on the purpose of the SA was old and 
Hitler continued to hold that the brown formations should carry out 
a political, not a military function. They were to be an enormous 
‘Hitler shock troop,’ not the cadres of a revolutionary army.” 36 There 
cannot be much doubt that Roehm saw the SA as the basis for a new 
and truly revolutionary German army. In a far more radical way, 
however, he seems to have envisioned converting Germany into an 
SA state with SA men having special claims to positions in the gov- 
ernment and private sectors. By the turn of 1934, Hitler faced the 
great, immediate, and perilous destabilization of Germany by 
Roehm and his permanent revolutionaries who would also be an 
army. But Germany already had an army, and one so good that Sir 
Basil Liddell Hart would describe its generals in a war soon to come 
as “the best-finished product of their profession — anywhere.” 37 
Roehm decried these generals as spiritless experts and fulminated 
that Hitler would take the heart and soul out of the movement if he 
chose to inherit a ready army rather than continue the revolution 
with an SA militia. We must be impressed by Roehm’s revolutionary 
elan exemplified by his words that the SA represented the chance to 
do something really new and great, something that would lift the 
world off its hinges. We must be even more impressed by Hitler’s 
glance into a future that would be made by him and would coalesce 



into panzers on the move in the dust clouds of the summer of 1941 
in the east. A militia does not fit into this glance. 

In all of this, at the turn of 1934, Hitler faced the deepening twi- 
light of Hindenburg’s life and the necessity to secure the presidency 
for himself. We can generalize that the “seizure” of the office would in 
fact signal the real and final achievement of power. We can also gener- 
alize that he would be capable of seizing the presidency both legally 
and practically, only with the support of the army. We can generalize 
finally that this army, whose support would secure Germany domesti- 
cally, would be the same army that would secure the European space 
necessary to create a Third Reich. It was as if Hitler were putting 
together a new Germany in the manner of assembling pieces of a 
puzzle, and by the middle of 1934 only two pieces remained — a Nazi 
president and a German army susceptible to his control. Roehm would 
desperately misread the situation of 1933 and suffer its culmination in 
1934. On the surface it seemed to have been one in which Hitler had 
opted for the rearmament and expansion of the army rather than the 
ornament of a mass revolutionary militia. Under the surface, however, 
the following new condition had arrived in Germany: 

By the turn of 1934 Hitler had become the near-political master 
of Germany and had done so less as a politician and a dictator and 
more as a “chosen one.” The results of the plebiscite he called on the 
question of approval for his removing of Germany from the League 
of Nations cannot be explained in terms of politics. For his bold 
defiance of the executors of the Versailles treaty, Germans rewarded 
him with 95.1 percent of the vote in favor of his policy, a remarkable 
result in which they gave Hitler overwhelming support — but also a 
believable one in which more than two million held out against his 
powers of persuasion. Roehm does not seem to have realized that 
Hitler had elevated himself above the revolution itself. He was no 
longer the protege of 1920, and in the world of 1934 could no longer 
be the personal friend or equal of any German. 

Divorced from the realitv of Hitler’s deeds and elevated image, 
Roehm would argue with and disobey this man. “Adolf is and always 



will be a civilian, an ‘artist,’ a dreamer ... all he wants to do is sit up 
in the mountains and play God.” In these words, Roehm gives an 
effective appraisal of Hitler, although it would have been more accu- 
rate for him to have said that Hitler “communed with Providence” 
rather than “played God.” In using the word Adolf m the presence of 
his subordinates, Roehm exhibited a lack of respect for Hitler and a 
badly mistaken sense of being an equal with him in some kind of 
conventional revolution in which many voices would discuss 
strategy and many more men enjoy the fruits of victory. But Hitler 
was running no mere political revolution and could hardly have 
made more clear what he required of party and movement. In Feb- 
ruary, in a Berlin address to his assembled Gauleiters, he would 
demand that “the party must act as a kind of monastic order, 
assuring the necessary stability for the entire future of Germany. . . . 
The first Leader had been chosen by destiny; the second must from 
the start have a loyal, sworn community behind him. No one may be 
selected who has a private power base: Only one man can be the 
Leader.” 38 Roehm, through his refractoriness, had become a unique 
menace to Hitler. And Roehm’s senior associates, in their grab for 
luxury, could not count as members of a monastic order. Hitler 
would attempt to “cleanse the SA of the incalculability and wildness 
of the years of struggle and give [the SA men] the hardness and 
sobriety which are needed in a ruling class.” 39 

On June 4, 1934, Hitler made a final attempt in face-to-face dis- 
cussion to dissuade Roehm from his dysfunctional demands for a 
second revolution and failed after five hours of argument. We are 
treated to the spectacle of the Leader of German millions arguing 
over principle with a recalcitrant subordinate who considered him- 
self to be his friend. But a messiah can have no friends. There can be 
little doubt that the timing of the Roehm affair was dependent 
entirely on the impending death of the president. But the form that 
the affair took was dependent almost entirely on the relationship — 
the “friendship” — between Hitler and Roehm during the preceding 
fifteen years. Roehm, for example, had had a bookplate prepared for 



presentation to Hitler that showed Mein Kampfw'ith a sword on it and 
two clasped hands above the hook and the sword. 40 Can we imagine 
in wildest imagination a Hess, or even a Gregor Strasser, claiming 
the relationship suggested by the illustration? "Hie Roehm affair, as it 
culminated in the Blood Purge, signaled the end of a friendship in 
which “one of the two friends refused to recognize the elevation of 
the other to a godlike status.” 41 Earlier in 1934, lless had sworn-in 
the entire party simultaneously through means of radio and micro- 
phone and presaged the oath by the words that through it; Germans 
would bind their lives to a man through whom superior forces act in 
the fulfillment of destiny. 42 But Roehm would characterize his chief 
as a civilian, artist, and dreamer, and through some obtuse death 
wish continue action that would require Hitler to destroy him. 

Hitler as both creator and recreator of National Socialism could 
never be in error about National Socialist doctrine. Even an 
unerring prophet, however, may face mutiny within the ranks of the 
faithful; and how does a prophet destroy a disloyal follower as 
opposed to a common enemy? Hitler had the option of putting 
Roehm on trial for treason against the German state, but it would 
have left any result out of Hitler’s hands and put it into those of an 
array of judges, jurors, bureaucrats, and newspaper editors. And the 
real issue was not treason against the state but revolt against the 
savior of the Germans. In such a situation, Roehm would have to be 
indicted on a charge of interfering with God’s messenger, an accu- 
rate charge (in Hitler’s mind) but one not susceptible to treatment by 
any conventional legal system. Hitler also had the option to depose 
Roehm from his position as chief of staff of the SA but could use it 
only with the danger of open civil war within the party. 

Papen, in his ghost-written Marburg address of June 17, would 
characterize the offending SA as comprising “the elements of self- 
ishness, lack of character, mendacity, beastliness and arrogance that 
are spreading under the guise of the German Revolution.” 43 A key 
in all of this for a superior comprehension of Hitler is that he was 
forced to tolerate the peculiar mixture of discipline and indiscipline 



associated with parts of the SA and the homosexual cliquishness of 
its higher leaders. During the period of 1930 through 1934, when 
Hitler imposed his will on every associate in Germany, one man 
alone resisted successfully his powers of persuasion. Roehm was a 
difficult friend, who was now out of his league and standing in the 
way of destiny. By June 1934, Hitler stood poised to pass beyond 
friendship with any man and into the realm of the lonely, distant 
Leader. But Hitler could never pass into that realm with Roehm 
alive and serving as a reminder of Hitler’s own historical mortality. 
Roehm had to die, and Hitler had to kill him. 

The biographers, both great and lesser, nevertheless assign the 
word murder to describe the eventual killing, but the word is more 
contemptuously pejorative than useful in discussing what took place. 
First and foremost, the killing of a human being to be classified as 
murder demands the presence of malice aforethought — the killing 
must be willful, premeditated, and deliberate. With murder seen as 
such, Roehm cannot be seen to have been murdered by Hitler, 
although that would have been scant solace to him, for death is 
death. Hitler had shown enormous forbearance with Roehm, and no 
actions that suggest malice aforethought could be seen on Hitler’s 
part through mid-June. Toward the end of June, however a late- 
coalescing quadrumvirate of Goering, Himmler, Heydrich, and 
Goebbels fed Hitler report, document, and rumor of an impending 
SA putsch. During the same period and specifically in his meeting of 
June 21 with President Hindenburg and Werner von Blomberg, 
Hitler would receive an ultimatum to the effect that “internal peace 
was the first priority. If Hitler could not remove the present intoler- 
able tension . . . the president would declare martial law and turn the 
job over to the army.” 44 At this moment, Hitler would have faced the 
necessity for decisive action, including the possible killing of 
Roehm, to halt the impending disaster of army intervention. 

So late as June 21, however, Hitler still had no plan of action to 
head off disaster and the options would have continued to be legion. 
Roehm’s refractoriness to Hitler’s pleas and arguments from January 



1933 onward, however, would be joined by evidence of plans for out- 
right uprising. Hitler informed Blomberg on June 25 that he 
intended personally to arrest Roehm and the higher SA leaders the 
following Saturday morning at Bad Wiessee, where they would be 
concentrated in a scheduled conference. At this point the army, 
backed by the president, put its authority and resources (e.g., motor 
vehicles, weapons, etc.) behind Hitler and his gathering police and 
SS arresting Kommandos (detachments). Hitler as chancellor and 
arresting authority, however, would require charges against Roehm. 
As the situation stood on June 25, Hitler had little more than Roehm 
as nuisance to state and army and challenge to Hitler’s authority 
over the party. But Roehm had become a big nuisance, and the pres- 
ident himself and Blomberg, “stiff and Prussian” and not his usual 
malleable self, had demanded decisive action against him. 45 

For most men and even the greater ones, real power must usually 
destroy them through the corruptive temptations of pleasure. Hitler 
was impenetrable to such temptation and was characterized by the 
legend of his monastic frugality with its quality of the pitiful, saintly, 
and awe-inspiring. 46 For the greatest men in history who continue the 
climb to the colder regions of power, there is no longer any tangible 
enjoyment, and only the pride of the heights can compensate them for 
the icy burden of responsibility and the constant fear of downfall. 4 
To ascend to the final coldest height, Hitler could have no friends but 
only followers sworn in loyalty to fate’s messenger. With Hitler inter- 
preted as aspiring political dictator, however, we cannot see the events 
of June as capable of satisfactory interpretation to the present day. 
Alan Bullock, as the first great biographer, would postulate that “it is 
impossible to penetrate 1 litler’s state of mind in the last week of June.” 
And Kershaw, as the most recent, would note: “What Hitler had in 
mind at this stage [the last week in June] is unclear.” 

It is easy to believe that a power-hungry dictator would have 
moved through an organized conspiracy to murder Roehm. The great 
biographers have agreed that Hitler was such a tyrant, but none has 
been able to show or has even attempted to show that Hitler was part 



of a murderous conspiracy. This does not mean that Hitler can be 
absolved from killing Roehm and other high-level SA leaders, but that 
he marched to a drumbeat different from all others. He should have 
led a conspiracy demanded by the situation of that June and triggered 
by the president’s demand for action. Quite astonishingly, however, he 
ascended the mountains above Salzburg to ponder the historical junc- 
ture, isolated from all others from mid-Friday to Monday. We see no 
advisers and we sense the presence of a destiny whisperer. The whis- 
pering ended on Monday, when Hitler informed Blomberg that 
Roehm would be arrested the following Saturday. This strategic deci- 
sion could be seen as etched in stone, but even here Hitler confounds 
us with his tactical pragmatism. Rudolf Hess’s Monday evening radio 
address, which could have been written by Hitler, warned Roehm 
against the second revolution and specifically invited him back into 
the fold. But for whatever reason, Roehm did not reply to Hess’s peace 
offer, and Roehm’s enemies would continue to disseminate evidence, 
both real and bogus, of an imminent SA uprising. 

At this point, the great biographers center our attention on the 
momentarily innocent stance of Roehm and the SA higher leadership 
from Wednesday through Saturday morning of the last week of June. 
But by that time, Roehm had already doomed himself. Hitler had 
been presented evidence that claimed that Roehm was involved in an 
unlikely but potentially deadly conspiracy that involved Kurt von 
Schleicher, Gregor Strasser, and the French ambassador Andre 
Fran(jois-Poncet. The reports of an impending SA putsch were 
believable to Hitler, notwithstanding whether they were bogus or 
real. And the entire business could be summed up in terms of the sit- 
uation in the Silesian Army Corps Area. Its commanding general per- 
sonally visited the German Army commander-in-chief and his chief 
of staff in Berlin on Friday to report that the local SA claimed to be 
reacting to army alerts against it. Werner von Fritsch summoned the 
head of the Army Office in the War Ministry, Generalmajor Walther 
von Reichenau, who commented laconically and with a sense of the 
inexorability of fate: “That may be true, but it’s too late now .” 49 



In the final three days — Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday — of 
the period of Hitler’s decision to “arrest” Roehm, Hitler most likely 
had committed himself to deposing him. The deposition would have 
included also the homosexually dominated higher leadership of the 
SA by some decisive but probably nonlethal means. But Goering, 
Himmler, and lleydrich plied Hitler with evidence of impending 
bloody SA rebellion, and he reacted with increasing rage over evi- 
dence of mutiny and disloyalty. By late Friday afternoon, Hitler 
would have committed himself to the arrest and probable shooting of 
people. As afternoon moved into evening, Hitler began to get more 
threatening news of rebellion. Around midnight, he received a tele- 
phone call from Himmler that an SA uprising was planned for Sat- 
urday afternoon in Berlin and then a second call from Munich that 
disturbances were already developing there. At that moment, Hitler 
was located in Bad Godesberg on the Middle Rhine, about three hun- 
dred air miles from Berlin and 275 from Munich, and unable to see 
for himself either the Berlin evidence or the Munich disturbance. 
The two phone calls became the chance event that triggered the 
action exemplifying the Roehm affair to the present day — Hitler’s 
spontaneous, bold, early morning raid on Roehm’s hotel on the 
Tegernsee. Hitler’s ignition into a dangerous raid and his utterly con- 
sistent accusations of disloyalty demand that we qualify Hitler’s 
action as a crime of passion against the infidelity of those sworn to 
loyalty. Confusion exists in the interpretation of the event because 
Goering and Himmler acted in a manner of premeditated murder, 
and the great biographers untidily lump Hitler together with the 
others. But Hitler, still in a fit of homicidal passion only hours after 
Roehm’s seizure, would make his personal position clear. In a brief 
address to party leaders hastily gathered at the Brown House around 
noon, he would agonize over the “worst treachery in world history.” 50 
The Marburg conservatives had intended their earlier speech as 
a lever to induce the president either to force Hitler to curb the SA 
or to dismiss him and turn over the job to the army. 51 The impres- 
sive irony was that Papen had said publicly what Hitler already knew 



to be the truth: the SA was out of control. As irony followed irony, 
the conservatives, not Hitler, opened the final phase of the battle for 
the succession to the presidency by forcing him to take decisive 
action against Roehm and the SA. 52 In the culminating, grand irony, 
Hitler would take action so immediate and decisive that the Mar- 
burg conservatives, the president, and the war minister would all 
have their demands fulfilled. The conservatives thereby, through 
their own initiative, would have rendered themselves superfluous to 
the further course of German events. The great biographers would 
interpret the Roehm affair as one in which “once again Hitler had 
acted wholly in terms of the ends of power.” 53 But there can be nei- 
ther sublimity nor finality in an act committed for the sake of power: 
Did Hitler proclaim in 1924 in public trial that he would be known 
as the destroyer of Marxism? In February and March of 1933, did he 
destroy the Marxists for the sake of more “power”? Or did he destroy 
the Marxists for the purpose of becoming historically great as the 
savior of the Germans from them? It would seem more likely that 
with the destruction of the Marxists and the killing of Roehm, 
Hitler arrived at a higher level of historical drama rather than a 
higher political-scientific score for personal power. 

The words of a contemporary associate of Hitler sum up the 
meaning of the Roehm Affair more perceptively than those of latter day 
interpreters: “the mass character of the horrors silenced the question of 
good and evil, justice and injustice, in men’s souls, leaving [Germans] 
with the feeling that a hideous necessity had worked itself out. By this 
gruesome deed of June 30, 1934, Hitler, in the eyes of the German 
people, definitely assumed the dimensions of a historical, superhuman 
being, whose rights and reasons could no longer be questioned.” 54 Hitler 
had already saved the Germans from the Marxists in the events of 1933 . 
In the later events of mid- 1934, he would save them yet again— this 
time from the permanent revolutionaries of his own movement. Hitler 
thereby ran out of domestic enemies from whom to save the Germans. 
And although he continued to be revered by millions as savior, Hitler 
would be cast as German destiny itself after August 1934 . 

Chapter 1 


W ith his domestic consolidation of power, Hitler would not 
only continue to make new Germans internally but also 
begin to regain freedom of maneuver internationally through repu- 
diation of German disarmament. This generalization is well known. 
Biographers and historians, almost without exception, have indicted 
Hitler as totally responsible for the outbreak of World War II as it 
developed out of this process. This indictment is also well known. 
What remains less well-known is how a single man could be saddled 
with the blame for, or alternatively the feat of, starting World War 11. 
To accomplish this, he first had to take possession of Germany; given 
the circumstances of the time, he then had to rearm it. Ideological elan 
and messianic fervor could take a movement only so far, and then the 
young men possessing such elan would have to be seriously armed — 
no more brass knuckles, knives, walking sticks, and pistols. This does 
not mean that Hitler would renounce his unique emphasis on the cre- 
ation of new Germans but that the new men among them would have 
to be effectively equipped for w r ar. It is easy to anticipate, therefore, 
that Hitler would take his next major foreign policy action as one that 
would free up German rearmament. 

By the time that Hitler would announce the fact of already- 
existing rearmament and the reimposition of conscription in March 
1935, he had effectively removed himself from domestic politics. By 
that time, Hitler can be seen to have transformed such politics into 
propaganda and indoctrination — the nationalization of the German 




masses to support the impending wars for living space. Domestic 
politics would exist to create a “strong, impregnable ‘national com- 
munity.’” 1 During the entire period 1935-1939, Hitler engaged in 
domestic politics through broad directives exemplified by his 
speeches at the yearly Party Day rallies at Nuremberg in the month 
of September. During the same period he would face a challenging 
situation in the German economy in which he would have to balance 
the production of armaments against consumer goods and food. 
Being able to see only evil in the regime, the biographers present the 
period domestically as one dominated in Germany by the oppres- 
sion of Marxist leaders, Jews, and “undesirables,” presenting the 
latter as victims of social prejudice. Unable to resist at least mild 
exaggeration in the matter of oppression, Professor Ian Kershaw, the 
most recent great biographer, notes that “victims of social prejudice 
. . . were readily to hand: prostitutes [legally constituted as such in 
Germany], homosexuals, Gypsies, habitual criminals, and others 
seen as sullying the image of the new society by begging, refusing 
work, or any sort of ‘antisocial’ behavior.” 2 We are presented thereby 
with habitual criminals as victims of social prejudice and deflected 
from the relatively successful action of Hitler to create a new society 
that would be a genuine community of heroically magnetized Ger- 
mans. With these Germans figuratively magnetized, of course, 
Hitler can be seen in March 1935 to have completed the transition 
to foreign policy and to have begun his notorious series of marches 
into World War II — March 1935: conscription; March 1936: 
Rhineland; March 1938: Austria; March 1939: the Czech heartland. 

But things are not always as they seem to be in Hitler biography 
and European history of this period. Kershaw’s biography, for 
example, is one of stunning detail, acerbic wit, profound insight, and 
complete self-assuredness — but nevertheless it slips by both Hitler 
and the period. In the case of the announcement of German rear- 
mament on March 16, 1935, as exemplified by the imposition of con- 
scription, Kershaw speaks as the complete spokesman of the con- 
ventional wisdom and pictures Hitler as dictator and gambler. The 


man is presented as disturber of peace and breaker of international 
law — specifically the peace of Europe of the 1930s and the inter- 
national law that had proceeded out of the Paris Peace Conference. 
But the peace of January 1935 continued to be for Germans a 
reminder of fifteen years of imposed international servitude. On 
January 13, shortly before the armaments imbroglio of March, the 
League of Nations would conduct a plebiscite in the territory of the 
Saar Basin lying in the southeastern German Rhineland, contiguous 
with French Lorraine. The basin was an industrial entity built 
around the coal field lying under it, which was one of the three 
largest in continental Europe. From the partition of Merzen in 870 
until 1919, the area had been German under various petty princes 
and bishops and finally the kings of Prussia and Bavaria for more 
than one thousand years, with only two brief interruptions. By the 
1910 Prussian census, of the 571,690 inhabitants of the Prussian part 
of the Basin, 568,096 gave German as their “mother tongue,” and 
342 gave French. 3 In the face of this historical and demographic sit- 
uation, French prime minister Georges Clemenceau, in March 1919, 
nevertheless had demanded “as a minimum that the whole Saar 
Basin” be annexed by France. 4 Wilson and Lloyd George resisted the 
French demands for outright annexation but in April agreed to sus- 
pension of German sovereignty, administration of the Saar territory 
by a League of Nations commission, and French ownership of every 
coal mine for a period of fifteen years- — at the end of which a 
plebiscite would be held on the choice of the inhabitants between 
French or German sovereignty. 

The conventional wisdom as represented by Kershaw would 
interpret the situation as one in which “it was always likely that the 
majority of the largely German-speaking population where resent- 
ment at the treatment meted out in 1919 still smoldered fiercely, 
would want to return to Germany.” 5 This statement is notably eco- 
nomical with the objective reality of this way station to World War 
II. The French government, in the form of Clemenceau and Andre 
Tardieu, in their near-successful attempt to annex the Saar Basin 



would create a situation in 1919, independent of Hitler, which 
would encourage a war of perceived injustice on the part of later 
Germans. The conventional wisdom neither connects the action 
with the near-future outbreak of World War II nor connects any 
Frenchman with the action. And to refer to the population of the 
Saar Basin as “largely German speaking” when German speakers 
outnumbered French almost 1,700 to 1 doesn’t give an accurate 
sense of the enormity of the situation. For purposes of Hitler biog- 
raphy, we are left with the picture of an opportunistic propaganda 
victory on the part of a wicked German dictator. For purposes of 
understanding the outbreak of World War II and the contribution to 
it by other men and other governments, we could just as readily pic- 
ture the joyous end to the work of a wicked French prime minister 
dedicated to dismemberment of 1919 Germany. On March 28 of 
that year, for example, Clemenceau had advanced the statement to 
US president Woodrow Wilson that there were 150,000 Frenchmen 
in the Saar whose rights should be respected. 6 This claim would 
underlie any moral justification for the near-annexation of the rich, 
coal-bearing area. But fifteen years later in a newspaper interview, 
Hitler would be able to point out that “this territory was torn from 
Germany on the basis of the assertion that in it were living 150,000 
French people. After fifteen years of government by the League of 
Nations... it is now established that there are but 2,000 French... 
settled in this territory. . . . Can one then wonder that a treaty built up 
of arguments so false as this failed to bring any happiness or blessing 
to mankind?” 7 

Hitler’s contention was a factual one, for the results of the 
plebiscite showed 2,124 voters, probably French, opting for annexa- 
tion by France. Hitler’s accurate contention that Clemenceau, the 
French, and the Versailles treaty were wicked entities as concerns 
the exploitation of the Saar Basin does not mean that Hitler was 
good. It suggests, however, that the French government was bad and 
that the French passion for the subjugation of Germany and parallel 
necessary domination of the continent qualified as such. Historians 


and Hitler biographers nevertheless have indicted Hitler as totally 
responsible for the outbreak of a Europe-wide war in late 1939 
through his actions and intent from 1933 onward. Yet French gov- 
ernments had held the rancorous likes of Clemenceau, Tardieu, and 
Poincare, relieved only by the more gentle image of Aristide Briand, 
whose favorite maxim was “life is made of rubber.” 8 But the harder 
types would predominate to channel Europe toward war. And as 
concerns the spirit of French leadership, a wit of the day would 
remark that “Briand knows nothing and understands everything; 
Poincare knows everything and understands nothing.” 9 

Similar to the situation above in wTich Hitler’s internal enemies 
tend to become invisible in terms of being interpreted realistically, 
his external competitors disappear as realistic entities in the great 
biographies. From 1933 through 1935, Hitler began his foreign policy 
march with concern about German armaments and the struggle for 
more realistic balance among the armaments of the major European 
states. Hitler had remarked in writing so early as 1925 that German 
rearmament would first be a moral struggle to create Germans 
willing to fight and second a struggle for numbers of armed men and 
production of the latest weapons. Hitler would face a great interna- 
tional battle to get these Germans armed and to begin the brief but 
hugely dramatic period in European history described as the “age of 
faits accomplis.” 10 If & fait accompli is a thing accomplished and presum- 
ably irrevocable, then Hitler’s earlier removal of Germany from the 
disarmament conference and the League at Geneva fit the bill and 
marked the beginning of the age. The expression suggests that Hitler 
flared up and, with evil intent and dangerous potential consequence, 
presented the innocent and unoffending diplomatic world with an 
immoral and illegal accomplished fact. But the disarmament confer- 
ence had been based on the Versailles treaty, and the article in it that 
had directed the disarmament of Germany pursuant to the rest of the 
world similarly being disarmed. But of all the faits accomplis of the 
interwar period, the Versailles treaty itself must qualify as the first 
and the greatest — the mother of all in the interwar period. 



As concerns the approach of World War II and responsibility for 
its outbreak, Hitler would have appeared to many contemporaries as 
a brash, young German patriot dedicated to overturning the unfair 
parts of the Versailles treaty. Neither the French nor Hitler could 
have been seen as already leading their countries into World War II. 
But if such a thing were possible to conceive in 1933, Hitler would 
have appeared to many as willing to fight in order to set aside an 
inordinately enduring, unfair treaty. The French, notwithstanding 
the motives of any of their allies, would have appeared as willing to 
fight a war in order to maintain an outmoded but advantageous evil. 
The great biographers, however, gripped by other evils seen when 
looking back through 1945, would have been unable to resist the 
temptation to interpret Hitler as prime mover in a surprise action 
intended as part of a march to World War II. 

Hitler would tell us much about himself in the early 1935 rear- 
mament crisis. As concerns his incarnation as German statesman, he 
would astound his opponents with his boldness and defend his 
actions with superior argument by critical examination of logical 
consequences. He would note that “Germany, in demanding 
equality of rights [that] can only be achieved by the disarmament of 
other nations, has a moral right to do so since she herself has carried 
out the provisions of the treaties.” 11 Of course, the 1933 disarma- 
ment crisis was prologue to Hitler’s following major international 
faits accomplis of the decade. But the Geneva confrontation set the 
pattern for every crisis that followed through Munich to the Polish 
summer of 1939. In every case, witness lingering Allied iniquity 
from the Paris Peace Conference, bold Hitlerian challenge, Allied 
disarray, and near-miraculous Hitler triumph. The revisionist part of 
this pattern lies in the point that every international crisis that 
involved Hitler in the 1930s stemmed from an iniquity on the part of 
the Allies in the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. But we are 
searching for Hitler and not the Allies, so how does this revision help 
us find him? The dictator must be seen as more than a dictator and 
the Allies seen as less than nice. And to agonize that they would 


become ineffectual appeasers — if only Winston Churchill had been 
British prime minister in the later 1930s rather than Neville Cham- 
berlain — misses the point that a world-historical personality had 
marched, outraged, out of the desert of shattered Flanders fields, 
and the former Allies had not even superior morality to shield them- 
selves from him. 

As Hitler wrestled with the necessity to announce German rear- 
mament, he would nevertheless conclude a ten-year nonaggression 
pact with Poland in January 1934. Hitler timed the pact well because 
it came shortly after he had shaken the former Allies by withdrawing 
Germany from the World Disarmament Conference. The pact 
counterbalanced many of the ill effects of the withdrawal because it 
reinforced his propagandized image as the man of peace in Europe 
— the unlikely German statesman who had begun the unlikely labor 
of normalizing relations in so emotional a situation. Not even 
Gustav Stresemann, Germany’s great statesman of the 1920s, had 
been inclined to risk political suicide by attempting an accommoda- 
tion with the Poland that had been created by the Paris Peace Con- 
ference and the Poles of history. But Hitler, as German destiny 
walking, required weapons and armed men, which in turn demanded 
relaxed international tension. Hitler’s nonaggression pact with Mar- 
shal Josef Pitsudski’s Poland was a masterpiece of apparent peaceful 
intentions that increased acceptance of German rearmament and 
began to break up the French continental alliance system that was so 
dependent on keeping Germany encircled in the east. But we know 
such things as part of the diplomatic history of the period. We are 
less certain of how either the National Socialist ideologue of the 
great biographers or the messenger of destiny could be so accom- 
modating with so fundamental an enemy. But mere ideologues pale 
in comparison with what Hitler represented in terms of German and 
Polish destiny. 

Later in 1934, Hitler would face a serious international setback 
with the attempted coup of the Austrian Nazis in Vienna in late July. 
After Hitler had become chancellor, the Austrian Nazis had been 



emboldened to attempt to seize political power in Austria and carry 
out union with Germany. But they ran into two formidable obstacles: 
internally, the Christian Socialist Engelbert Dollfuss had become 
chancellor in 1932, proclaimed a dictatorship in March 1933, and dis- 
solved all political parties in February 1934. Externally, the Italian 
and Yugoslav governments increased their support for Dollfuss’s gov- 
ernment and particularly for his policy of Austrian independence. 
And if all this were not bad enough for Hitler, the French, British, and 
Italian governments jointly declared on February 17 a common view 
of the necessity to maintain Austria’s “independence and integrity” in 
accordance with relevant treaties. 12 Things looked bad for Hitler 
when Austrian Nazis broke into the chancellery and, in the ensuing 
scuffle, wounded Engelbert and allowed him to die through lack of 
adequate medical help. Things looked worse for Hitler though the 
bizarre historical chance that Dollfuss’s wife and children were in 
Rome as house guests of Mussolini, the chief international guarantor 
of Austrian independence at the moment of the killing. Hitler came 
across as international accessory to rebellion and murder in a neigh- 
boring state. He was seen as a menace to Austria’s independence and 
a threat to the “relevant treaties” that established it. 

But things are not always as they seem to be in Hitler biography. 
Dollfuss, after all, was a tough dictator whose Fatherland Front may 
not have represented the wishes of Austrians as concerns indepen- 
dence. And the former Allies sought to enforce it based on dictated 
treaties that did not reflect the wishes of the Austrians from the view- 
point of national self-determination. But the Austrians of 1918 and 
1919 had voted overwhelmingly for union with Germany, and it is 
tempting to generalize that most in 1934 would have voted in favor 
notwithstanding an intervening fifteen years of burgeoning particular 
interests in an unwanted republic. The generalization is particularly 
enticing because, in 1938, the Austrian people approved union by 
public acclaim so ecstatic that they pulled Hitler himself along into 
the almost immediate assimilation of Austria into a Greater Germany. 
Within such a situation, Hitler appears less as an accessory to bloody 


uprising in 1934 and more as an accessory to the impending arrival of 
a German messiah in 1938 — the man who would save the Austrians 
from Saint-Germain and make them into new Germans. 

* * * 

When the French government in May 1934 rejected the second 
British disarmament plan, it signaled that it had given up on the 
League of Nations as a mechanism to effect satisfactory armaments 
levels between France and Germany. The French foreign office, 
referred to as the Quai d’ Orsay because of its location within Paris, 
turned to a policy of independent action. The policy had been 
worked out by the top career official at the Quai d’ Orsay, its secre- 
tary general Alexis Saint-Leger Leger, who attempted to box in 
Hitler’s Germany with a continental alliance system that would 
include the Soviet Union and Italy. 13 For purposes of Hitler biog- 
raphy, the French policy shows France not honoring its legal obliga- 
tion to disarm under the Versailles treaty. It also shows France 
obstructing League efforts to enforce disarmament. Neither Leger 
nor the most aggressive foreign minister he advised, Jean Louis Bar- 
thou, had the slightest intention of disarming France to the German 
level. From the viewpoints of both action and aggressive intent — to 
maintain the unilateral German disarmament and collateral French 
domination of the continent — the French government contributed 
to an unfair and outmoded situation significantly responsible for the 
outbreak of war. This French connection with the outbreak of World 
War II has vanished within Hitler’s shadow, and perhaps under- 
standably so. With feigned astonishment that any man could believe 
differently, Leger would claim that he intended from the beginning 
to make a shambles of the Versailles treaty. Hitler would do so over 
the next several years, and in a grand historical perversity, set aside 
a vindictive, cruel treaty and replace it with a vindictive, cruel war. 

As it became apparent by mid- 1934 that French disarmament 
would not take place and German rearmament probably would, the 



various governments, especially French, British, and German, began 
to adjust to the new reality. Hitler would issue an order in October 
raising the size of the German Versailles army to the Geneva- 
discussed level of 300,000 men. Since, however, it would take 
approximately two years to train the conscripts, Hitler would have 
the larger army only by October 1936. The French government of 
Pierre Flandin would extend the term of service for the conscripts 
in its large peacetime army to account for the dip in the birth rate 
from late 1914 through 1918 and the coincidental suspected increase 
in German armaments. In a word, Flandin would expand the size of 
the French army. The British government was more concerned with 
the sizes of air and naval forces. Based on its assumption that the 
Germans were beginning to rearm, the British government 
announced the beginning of air rearmament on March 4, 1935. 
Based, therefore, on the refusal of the French to disarm and the 
declared increase in armaments by both France and Britain, Hitler 
would announce on March 16, 1935, that Germany would begin to 
expand its army to 550,000 personnel. 

And during this second installment of the disarmament crisis, in 
which he would announce conscription, Hitler would present the 
situation in words difficult to match for sarcasm, innuendo, and out- 
rage. The words are Hitler’s; he had no speech writer. He could sum- 
marize roughly verbatim within his May 1935 Reichstag speech: 

I cannot avoid expressing my astonishment at a statement which 
was publicly made by the British prime minister, Mr. MacDonald, 
who said with regard to the restoration of a German defense force 
that the other states had been right after all in being cautious about 
disarmament. For according to this view the Allies and Germany 
conclude a treaty. Germany fulfils its obligation and the Allies fail 
to fulfill theirs. After years of warning, Germany also finally states 
that the treaty is no longer valid for it, whereupon Mr. MacDonald 
is entitled to declare that thereby the Allies’ previous breach of 
the treaty has now received subsequent moral justification in that 
Germany has now also abandoned the treaty . 14 


With dry British wit, MacDonald had disparaged Germany in a 
phrase in his statement that was virtually impossible to counter. His 
comment could be vernacularized as: wasn’t that just like the Ger- 
mans, and weren’t we fortunate not to have fallen for it? His words, 
vernacularized or otherwise, were difficult to defend because they 
summed up a complex issue in only a few words, yet with self- 
assured, unmistakable criticism of the Germans. Hitler was incensed 
by this one-sided rendering of world disarmament from 1919 
through 1935 and would fly to the attack with the ice-cold yet sar- 
castic simplification noted above. 

If we were to put faces into this picture of armaments from 1933 
through 1935 and relate it with the Versailles treaty, we could gen- 
eralize that Jean Louis Barthou determined illegally not to disarm 
France but to increase its armaments, and that Adolf Hitler deter- 
mined (less) illegally to rearm Germany. Prime Minister J. Ramsay 
MacDonald, after prodigious and courageous efforts to bring France 
around to honor its treaty obligations and faced with evidence of 
impending German rearmament, illegally began to increase British 
air armaments in early March 1935. Multiple illegalities character- 
ized the armaments picture in the spring, but the most astonishing 
and final irregularity would be the Anglo-German naval agreement 
of early summer. The British government was moderately con- 
cerned about ground armaments, more deeply concerned about air 
armaments, and terminally concerned about naval armaments. The 
British government had entered World War I based significantly on 
its perception of a threat to its naval supremacy from the rapidly 
industrializing turn-of-the-century Germany. Hitler, as both a self- 
adjudged and undeniable “student of history,” subtly exploited the 
situation. The exploitation was subtle because instead of menacing 
the British with excessive demands like equality in naval armaments, 
Hitler would menace them with a ratio so seductive that the British 
government could not refuse it. The ratio — one hundred major 
British warships versus thirty-five German — must have been seen as 
epochal by the British foreign minister, Sir John Simon, in light of 



the prewar Imperial German construction of a more threatening 
Navy. Simon would sign the Anglo-German naval agreement on 
June 18, 1935, and thereby condone Hitler’s illegal “open breach of 
treaty” and necessarily become a party to it. 

Quite astonishingly, earlier in April, MacDonald and Simon had 
met in Stresa on Lago di Maggiore in Italy with their opposite num- 
bers from France and Italy and issued a formal three-power protest 
against the German action. The opportunistic British adherence to a 
naval pact with the Germans in June condoned breach of treaty, 
undermined French security, and demolished the Stresa Front. This 
remarkable British action does not make Hitler a nicer person. He 
was, after all, not just interested in destroying a dysfunctional treaty 
but also dedicated to the formation of a German empire on the 
European continent, notwithstanding its imposition on several 
European peoples. The British action, however, does give pause for 
thought about British motivation for the outbreak of World War II. 
The British government, after all, was not just interested in reducing 
the damage from an unruly German dictator on the continent but 
also dedicated to the continuation of a world empire, notwith- 
standing its imposition on numerous world peoples. 

As 1935 turned into 1936, Hitler would face further mortal 
danger to the creation of the vision that he carried in his mind of a 
celestial German city. And, as usual, the danger would come from 
the Versailles treaty and less usually, but just as decisively, from an 
off-shoot known as Locarno — a group of treaties designed primarily 
to reassure France and her various allies of their security against 
Germany. Notwithstanding the restrictions and burdens imposed 
upon Germany by the Versailles treaty, the French government had 
continued to obsessively fear for its security. France, for example, 
would receive most of the German economic reparation and could 
use the issue to dominate Germany politically. The French govern- 
ment would argue with unsympathetic logic that the reparation was 
not excessive and the Germans were not paying on time, in various 
cases, because they did not want to. 


At the turn of 1925, the French-influenced Allies declared that 
because of German failure to fulfill the Versailles treaty provisions 
of disarmament, occupation forces would not be removed from the 
Cologne Zone of the Rhineland on January 10 even though it was 
required by treaty. Gustav Stresemann, as German foreign minister, 
would connect the recent Ruhr invasion with the nightmare possi- 
bility of permanent French occupation of the Rhineland stemming 
from exaggerated French security fears. The work exaggerated is 
applicable to the contemporary situation in which a French army of 
over 700,000 men was linked with a defense pact-allied armies in 
Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Belgium that totaled approximately 
600,000 more along borders contiguous with Germany. They stood 
opposed to the one-hundred-thousand-man German Army. This 
horror story for Germany of being outnumbered approximately 1 3:1 
in men under arms was aggravated by the fact that the Versailles 
treaty forbid the German army to have weapons effective for serious 
ground war. Through fear of lengthy and capricious French occupa- 
tion of the Rhineland, Stresemann proposed in a February 9, 1925, 
memorandum to the French government a mutual guarantee of the 
existing border between France and Germany. Stresemann intended 
the guarantee to be an act of conciliation great enough to relax 
France and ease the burden of the Versailles treaty on Germany. 

For his own reasons, the French foreign minister Briand wel- 
comed conciliation, and the British and Italian governments agreed 
to participate in discussions that led to a conference at Locarno in 
October. The conference was the most important of the 1920s in 
Europe and resulted in the signing of seven treaties in December 
1925. The most important was the Rhineland Mutual Guarantee 
Pact among France, Germany, and Belgium, with Britain and Italy as 
guarantors. "This was the treaty that faced Hitler and the Germans 
ten years later, and it had a dark edge in it for both. Notwithstanding 
Stresemann’s statesmanlike press for conciliation, the treaty had 
been coerced out of him by the French violence of 1923 and the 
threat of indefinite military occupation of the Rhineland at the turn 



of 1925. The dark edge for Stresemann in an otherwise shining 
treaty of conciliation was that he had been forced to accept the per- 
manent prohibition of German troops and military installations in a 
significant part of German territory. The dark edge for Hitler, ten 
years later, was that the Locarno-enforced German military vacuum 
in the Rhineland would freeze him in any attempt to move east. 

Stresemann can be seen as one of the two great statesmen of 
Europe in the 1920s and one who combined the qualities of Euro- 
pean breadth with those of a German patriot. But he was still only a 
great statesman. He had been constrained both by French power and 
his acceptance of the diplomatic rules of the game to move slowly. 
Stresemann would score high marks for enlightened attempts at 
conciliation with an irreconcilable France and low marks for the 
advantages presented to France by Locarno and The Hague. But he 
would affect a remarkable reversed conciliation. In it, a defeated 
Germany would conciliate a victorious France rather than the more 
reasonable situation in which a victor would conciliate a loser 
through the prudence of removing cause for revenge. And in accom- 
plishing this reversed conciliation he would move at a pace so slow 
and with statesmanlike goals so limited that more than one-half cen- 
tury would pass before Germany might be free. In contrast, Hitler 
was a historical force in a hurry. 

Years later, Hitler still had a long way to go on March 4, 1936, 
when the French National Assembly ratified a Franco-Russian 
mutual defense pact that had been signed a year earlier under a 
Flandin government. But he could go no place in the presence of a 
German military vacuum in the Rhineland, an adjacent French 
Army, and a Rhineland Mutual Guarantee Treaty that mandated 
such a situation. Hitler had to set aside the treaty, and he could not 
operate in the relaxed mode of a great statesman but would require 
instead the impatience and sense of fleeting time of the world- 
historical personality. As previously noted, Hitler could state as 
applicable to his opponents that “they had better realize that we see 
things in terms of a historical vision.” 15 Hitler glimpsed a Reich that 


would regenerate itself with each new generation, as it were, passed 
on in the blood of the nation. But such a passage in time could be 
possible only through the vision and achievement of the first gener- 
ation — the messiah and his first disciples. Hitler and the first gener- 
ation had to succeed. Otherwise, by no rational account could the 
following generation and ensuing ones have heroes exemplar 
enough to guide them for one thousand years. Hitler alone concep- 
tualized and ordered an armed march into the Rhineland, and the 
great biographers have interpreted him significantly as a gambler 
who would take any risk to further his own power. But we must dis- 
tinguish between the necessity to achieve and the compulsion to 
gamble, as it were, between the necessity to take risks and the com- 
pulsion to take them. To succeed, Hitler had to do things, and to do 
things, he had to take risks. In his Rhineland move, Hitler would face 
his greatest international danger of 1933-1936. It was one thing to 
walk out of the world disarmament talks in 1933 and another to 
march, armed, into the Rhineland in 1936. 

In the months before the march, Hitler had shown his character- 
istic political dexterity. It would be easy to mistake him for a politi- 
cian at this time, but the practice of politics does not necessarily 
demand a politician. During the whole period from March 1935 
through 1936, Hitler would flicker in and out as two personalities — 
not in the sense of some sort of clinical schizophrenia but in the 
sense of being two different men in international diplomacy. Hitler, 
for example, would call in the French ambassador, Andre Franqois- 
Poncet, on the afternoon of March 16, announce German rearma- 
ment, and claim that his intentions were defensive. Although the 
ambassador was an intelligent, polished diplomat, Hitler would con- 
vince him that German rearmament had resulted from concern over 
Soviet Russian Communism and was directed against it. We see two 
Hitlers here: The first was a devious German dictator but a consum- 
mate political tactician; he would deflect French action just enough 
by devious argument to prevent a career-ending French counter- 
stroke. The other Hitler was the voice of German destiny. It spoke 




the unswerving truth that Russian Communism was the world’s 
international enemy and revealed a sacred intention to destroy it. In 
such a picture, France was merely an honorable ancient competitor 
of the Germans and not an enemy to be destroyed. But France was 
caught at the wrong time and the wrong place in history as bystander 
in the greater drama of the approaching eastern cataclysm. Hitler 
had no quarrel with France — no interest in war for its own sake — but 
France was in the way, caught up in its ancient enmity. In the case of 
France, Hitler would find it necessary to protect a devious account 
of intent with a bodyguard of truth. 



Later, in March 1935, Hitler met in Berlin for two days with the 
British foreign minister Sir John Simon and discussed peace in 
Europe and the question of armaments. The circumstances were 
moderately bizarre because only days before Hitler had announced 
the reinstitution of German conscription in defiance of the Ver- 
sailles treaty, and only a month later the British government would 
meet at Stresa in Italy with French and Italian governments to con- 
demn the action and form a diplomatic front against Germany. 
Within such a context, Sir John would actually invite the Germans 
to discussions in London on the subject of naval armaments, which 
would lead to the Anglo-German naval pact of June. The Berlin 
conference was important; Hitler would personally conduct its 
meetings. According to Anthony Eden, Hitler conducted the discus- 
sions “without hesitation and without notes, as befitted a man who 
knew exactly where he wanted to go.” 16 Hitler would argue calmly 
and politely, having made the leap to polished international nego- 
tiator in no less refined company than statesmen of the British 
Empire. Here was the Hitler who was exceptionally well-read in 
subjects of interest to him, and they included history both ancient 
and modern — from Dorian tribes pressing in from the north to pop- 
ulate the Grecian peninsulas with Western man to more modern 


European scenes populated by b'rederick the Great and Otto von 
Bismarck. The man had historical sweep, as reflected in his sugges- 
tion “as a student of history” that Britain and Germany combine in 
an alliance that would dominate Europe and have world-wide impli- 
cations. But when negotiations turned to the subject of an Eastern 
Locarno — a guarantee of the borders among Germany, Poland, 
Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania with Soviet Russian involvement — 
the diplomatic Hitler became the other Hitler. 

The Lithuanian government had recently put on trial a number 
of Germans in the seaport of Memel for alleged treasonable corre- 
spondence with Germany. With the word Lithuania , the other Hitler 
would abruptly appear as “his eyes blazed, his voice became hoarse, 
and he rolled his r s. In a moment the storm subsided and once more 
he was the polished negotiator.” 17 The ostensibly minor issue of 
Memel suggests a revised picture of Hitler. Interpreted as the 
devious dictatorial leader of a volatile German political movement 
anil collector of power, he should not have been particularly con- 
cerned with Memel, especially during far-reaching negotiations 
with the British government over balances of sea power and sta- 
bility for all of Europe. But Hitler had become outraged enough on 
both days of the conference to become a different man and not a 
devious one. 

The Memel affair was deeper than it might have seemed to the 
British negotiators contemporaneously and great Hitler biographers 
more recently. It reflected the entire German condition, and Hitler, 
interpreted as a fiery messiah, would be particularly unhappy with it. 
Memel had been founded by the fabled Teutonic Order of knights in 
1252 and was first called New Dortmund — perhaps not unlike New 
York and New Jersey several hundred years later in a New World. 
The seaport on a sandy stretch of Baltic seacoast would remain pop- 
ulated almost entirely by Germans and under various German gov- 
ernments during the intervening 667 years until it encountered the 
Versailles treaty. The Allies, under the treaty, forced Germany to 
cede Memel to the “Allied and Associated Powers” and to accept 



whatever disposal they made of it. The port was a natural one for a 
newly constituted Lithuania, and the Allies suggested that the 
Lithuanians accept a free city status under controls shared with the 
League of Nations. The Lithuanians refused and instead seized 
Memel in a surprise attack in January 1923 with armed troops strong 
enough to force the French garrison to surrender and evacuate. To 
add insult to injury, the Lithuanian government insisted that the 
Memel citizenry, approximately 90 percent of whom were German, 
had risen spontaneously to become part of Lithuania. 

The Germans had a moral superiority in the Memel issue based 
on the Wilsonian principle of free determination of peoples. To 
make the situation more outrageous, the Allies had brought modern 
Lithuania into existence based on the same principle, and the 
Lithuanian government had violated it through the irony of seizing 
a German city for reason of economic convenience. If Hitler had 
been a mere dictator colored as ideologue, it is unlikely that the 
jailing of Germans for treason against Lithuania would have dis- 
turbed him. But it did disturb him. And it disturbed the flow of 
discussion at the conference. Hitler, as one party to discussions that 
led to an Anglo-German naval pact in June, would seemingly 
become possessed by a demon at the mention of the word Lithuania. 
It is unlikely that Hitler employed the incident for some transitory 
tactical advantage and it is unlikely that he had become possessed by 
a demon. It is likely that Hitler combined the intensity in one person 
of a German messiah and a darker prophet — one to whom destiny 
had revealed the path to German salvation. As such, he was supposed 
to be outraged. And momentarily, he was more outraged by the 
Lithuanian injustice than he was capable of concentrating on naval 
armaments, military parity, and general political settlements. 

* * 


At the end of 1935, France was still the strongest military power in 
western Europe. In spite of its economic depression and associated 


financial problems, France maintained a defense establishment — 
army, navy, and air force — of about 620,000 personnel. The German 
defense establishment, on the other hand, including the expansion of 
the air force and the navy and the inclusion of the rural police ele- 
ments of the Prussian and other state police, stood at just under 
400,000. And in the period from 1933 through 1935, French govern- 
ments had spent more money on their armed forces in terms of com- 
parable currency — specifically 10.1 billion French francs of 1913 
value compared with 9.2 billion French francs for Germany. 18 
Thanks to the realities of Franco-German strategic geography, the 
French army and air force could be concentrated along a common 
border with Germany and would be faced by a Rhineland devoid of 
German fortification, military installation, and soldiers. And, in the 
event of any defensively construed French counter-thrust into the 
Rhineland, Hitler would be faced with the danger of Belgian, Czech, 
and Polish armed intervention in support of France. Such were the 
vagaries of international relations, however, that the Stresa diplo- 
matic front had disintegrated with the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 
October. The disintegration of accord over the containment of Ger- 
many did not give Hitler an argument to present in support of 
German reoccupation of the Rhineland, but it did present fleeting 
opportunity Both argument and opportunity would come on March 
4, 1936, when the French Chamber of Deputies ratified a military 
alliance with Soviet Russia that gave Hitler reasonable cause to set 
aside the Rhineland Mutual Guarantee Pact. 

Ten months earlier, at the end of May 1935, the German gov- 
ernment had circulated a memorandum to the Locarno Pact signa- 
tories that the French government’s signed alliance with Soviet 
Russia was not compatible with the pact. Hitler, therefore, did not 
pull the Franco-Russian Alliance as a rabbit out of a hat to support 
a sudden fait accompli , but had argued through diplomatic channels 
for ten months against it. Hitler argued persuasively and validly that 
France had unbalanced the Locarno system by introducing Soviet 
Russia into central Europe. He would present as undisputed facts 



that the Franco-Soviet pact was directed against Germany and that 
in the event of a conflict between Germany and Soviet Russia, 
France had obligations that would compel it to take military action 
against Germany. He would point out that France alone had the 
right to decide on its own judgment if Germany were the aggressor 
in the event of a Russo-German conflict and suggest in a sarcastic 
double negative that any judgment would be a foregone conclusion 
— “France has not concluded this treaty with a European Power of 
no special significance” — he would argue that Soviet Russia would 
be an extraordinary danger to both Germany and Europe because it 
was not only a great power but also “the exponent of a [world] rev- 
olutionary political and philosophical system organized in the form 
of a state.” 19 And with additional sarcasm, he would state that the 
French government had attempted to brush aside Germany’s appre- 
hensions by referring to the unwieldy and unfit nature of Russia as 
an ally in a European conflict. 

The president of the French Chamber of Deputies, Edouard 
Herriot, however, would simultaneously attempt to convince the 
Chamber of the strength of a Soviet Russia as a military alliance 
partner. Hitler was able to note, thanks to Herriot and the informa- 
tion presented to the Chamber, that the Russian army had a peace 
strength of 1,350,000 men, war strength and reserves of 17,500,000 
men, and the largest tank and air forces in the world. These numbers 
and adjectives qualify as possibly unwieldy but impossibly dangerous. 
And in the event of a war between Russia and Germany, the French 
army could aid Russia only through an advance into a demilitarized 
German Rhineland, an act incompatible with Locarno. The French- 
imposed situation was a recipe for disaster for Germany, mitigated 
only by the geographical incidental that Soviet Russia and Germany 
had no contiguous border because they had been separated in 1919 
by the creation of Poland and Czechoslovakia at the Paris Peace Con- 
ference. But France had military pacts with both Poland and Czecho- 
slovakia, and Soviet Russia had signed a military pact with the Czechs 
at the end of May 1935. This situation has been characterized by one 


distinguished authority as a “policy of independent French action to 
keep Germany hemmed in by a ring of bayonets.” 20 

Hitler faced the above situation, in which Germany looked sus- 
piciously like the aggrieved party, during the impending ratification 
of the Franco-Russian military pact in February and early March 
1936. This view does not change the demonstrable fact that Hitler 
intended soonest to seize territories by armed force in the east. He 
saw the morally defensible advance west into the Rhineland as the 
indispensable first move demanded by an amoral vision of an 
advance east. The word vision is important, for we cannot compre- 
hend Hitler by claiming that he functioned in 1936 in terms of any 
commonly understood plan. Hitler advanced against a vast French 
alliance system that could be characterized as a French diplomatic 
empire underpinned by the evil assumption of German guilt for the 
outbreak of World War I and kept in place by French army power. It 
could be understood as the continuation of war against Germany by 
other means. This French-oriented picture of Europe at the turn of 
1936 is harsh, revisionist, and authoritative. Hitler would present it 
in two foreign policy speeches of May 21, 1935, and March 7, 1936, 
and skillfully direct his attacks not against France but against a situ- 
ation in which World War I had perpetuated itself into peacetime. 
Hitler’s arguments, although jarring to today’s ears, were largely 
valid then and remain largely valid today. 

The great biographers take the position that Hitler used the 
Franco-Russian pact as a pretext to denounce Locarno and reoccupy 
the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland. 21 This self-assured claim by 
the biographers supports a view of Hitler as an aggressive statesman 
who used the Franco-Russian pact to cloak his real intention for 
remilitarizing the Rhineland. But the pact can be seen as dangerous 
actuality as much as convenient pretense. It was true that the pact was 
directed at Germany, as were the military pacts that France had with 
Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Belgium. These pacts, when added to 
the one-sided demilitarization of the German border area with 
France, must be seen as a potential mortal danger to Germany. The 



following is a question of importance for a realistic revision of Hitler: 
Did he comprehend the French-inspired pact as pretense, actuality, 
or perhaps something else that has continued to elude us? 

Hitler himself provided powerful clues to his intentions in 
almost incredibly candid public speeches and party pronouncements 
year after year. In May 1935, shortly after the signing of the Franco- 
Russian military pact, he would state in his most important foreign 
policy speech of the year that “in so far as Bolshevism can be con- 
sidered a purely Russian affair we have no interest in it whatever. 
Every nation must seek its salvation in its own way. So far as Bolshe- 
vism draws Germany within its range, however, we are its deadliest 
and most fanatical enemies.” 22 France had always been, in Hitler’s 
eyes, a culturally advanced and respected nation-state. It was, how- 
ever, the architect and enforcer of the Versailles treaty and had 
become the state that would attempt to introduce Soviet Russia into 
the Western diplomatic mix. We cannot doubt that Hitler by the end 
of 1935 recognized the opportunity to reoccupy the Rhineland and 
cannot doubt that from a military point of view he saw the action as 
an “absolute necessity.” 23 About one week before the French 
Chamber of Deputies was due to vote on the Franco-Russian pact, 
however, Hitler granted an interview with the French journalist 
Bertrand dejouvenel of Paris Midi. In this interview, Hitler would 
argue in his incarnation as man of European destiny that the time 
had arrived for the reconciliation of the French and German peo- 
ples — the Latins and the Germans. With due regard for the politics 
of plebiscites, he would inform Jouvenel that 90 percent of Ger- 
mans, as embodied in the single individual Adolf Hitler sitting in 
front of him, desired reconciliation. He would pronounce with the 
solemnity that so often characterized him: “I beg you to take heed of 
this: in the lives of peoples there are decisive occasions. Today 
France can, if she wishes it, put an end forever and ever to this 
German peril!” 24 Taking the interview as a whole and as punctuated 
by comments such as this, we see Hitler argue that the historical 
moment had arrived for France to depart from the politics of 


German peril as embodied in the military pact with Soviet Russia 
and embrace the politics of mutual recognition of two great, cultur- 
ally dominant peoples. But how is it possible for Hitler to have 
argued so decisively against approval of the Franco-Russian pact at 
the critical time of the final debates in the Chamber? The conven- 
tional wisdom has demanded that Hitler used the pact as a pretext 
for the remilitarization of the Rhineland and that final approval by 
the French was a consummation devoutly to be desired. 

But Hitler, from the mid- 1920s onward, had repeated that “rivers 
of blood” had been spilled for no other purpose than minor rectifica- 
tions of borders in a Europe filled with peoples set within long- 
existing, distinct areas. Yet Germans were Germans and French were 
French, inconvertible one to the other and set within well-defined 
boundaries. Hitler was willing to give up a lot in support of his theme 
of the purposelessness of war in western Europe; in January 1935, on 
the occasion of the Saar plebiscite, he had announced in words 
beyond misunderstanding that Germany had no further territorial 
demands on France. Hitler was being peculiarly diplomatic because 
the reincorporation of the purely German Saarland into Germany 
could not be seen as having been a territorial demand against France. 
And with the same words he would renounce German claim to 
Alsace-Lorraine. The picture above supports a view that Hitler, with 
his characteristic historical sweep, had embraced a design of peaceful 
accommodation with France that amounted to a near-impossible 
attempt to secure a free hand in the east. 

With the Soviet military pact, however, the French government 
would continue its outmoded formula to keep Germany encircled 
by a ring of bayonets with its axiomatic danger of fruitless and 
bloody national war. Hitler would face the stern reality of an 
unbending France, an unfortified border, an impending Soviet 
Russia, and a more dangerous Czechoslovakia. He would also face an 
enormous but premature opportunity to regain sovereignty over the 
Rhineland. The opportunity was premature because 1 litler seems to 
have been thinking of remilitarization as not likely before 1937, and 



then with safer conventional negotiations to convince the Locarno 
signatories to grant Germany the equal right to have troops and for- 
tifications on its borders with Belgium and France. In either case 
Hitler had a striking argument — the Franco-Russian military pact 
was incompatible with Locarno, and the Versailles-Locarno demili- 
tarization of the Rhineland was based on the immoral proposition 
that Germany alone had been responsible for the outbreak of World 
War I. Hitler nevertheless has been interpreted as a treaty breaker, 
even though Versailles was an evil treaty and the part of Locarno 
that he repudiated was inequitable. In early 1936, we have a mar- 
velous complexity: a bad man would break a bad treaty and leave us 
to ponder the question of the greater evil. 

The French government faced new fears with German guns 
within range of Strasbourg. But France stood with a divided popula- 
tion, a neglected army, and an outmoded foreign policy that could 
not be supported by either. “When a country hasn’t an army that fits 
its policies, it must have policies that fit its army”; and France did not 
have an army that matched its foreign policy of 1936. 25 When the 
weak interim coalition government headed by the radical Albert 
Sarraut called on the chief of the French general staff, Maurice 
Gamelin, for the possibilities of armed action, the latter replied that 
the choices were total mobilization of the republic or no action at 
all. Neither Sarraut nor British prime minister Stanley Baldwin were 
craven opponents but rather politicians forced to operate interna- 
tionally in 1936 within hopelessly outmoded parameters set in place 
in 1919. Hitler’s foreign policy would be a study in the repudiation 
of the Versailles treaty and Saint-Germain, and his real opponents 
of the period may have been the formidable ghosts of the 
Clemenceau, Poincare, and Lloyd George of 1919 Paris. 

Hitler, of course, calculated the possibilities of French, Italian, 
and British counter-action, and did so with political scientific 
aplomb. He also engaged in the art of forecasting the future. But we 
can hardly claim that he based his action on either science or art, 
even though little basis remains for action after the application of 


knowledge (science) and skill in doing (art). But Hitler was Hitler 
and had become a historical force by 1936, inspired from his adoles- 
cence by ideal solutions. In February 1936, the boundary stakes 
between Germany and France were still placed thirty miles north of 
the Rhine River. The ideal solution to this cruel reality would be 
simply to carry them to the French border one dark night without 
negotiation, announcement, or realistic chance of success. What 
looks today as if it were assured — “The risk in fact had been only a 
moderate one” — was on March 7 a risk of momentous proportion. 26 

And Hitler showed more than just boldness in advancing into the 
mouth of unrealistic chance of success; he showed a stunning sense 
of the heroic. Returning from Cologne by train with Hans Frank, he 
would have records played of Wagner’s Parsifal prelude and the 
funeral march from Goetterdaemmerung, themes that involved, in his 
own words, the “glorious mystery of the dying hero.” 2. We can 
understand the Rhineland reoccupation more perceptively for pur- 
poses of comprehending Hitler as an ideal solution, a great simplifi- 
cation disguised as a fait accompli and carried out by a hero. The con- 
ventional wisdom, however, has presented Hitler as a gambler, 
although consummate psychologist, who outwitted his international 
opponents. And the same wisdom would say that this success gave 
“his boundless egomania another massive boost” and miss the truth 
of Hitler yet again. 28 

Hitler dwelt in a world of grand historical simplifications and 
did not shrink from the logical necessities of his own thought. He 
offered the French a twenty-five-year nonaggression pact that he 
probably hoped would lead to an ideal modus vivendi with France. In 
such an arrangement, France would be assured of its Alsace- 
Lorraine boundaries, and Germany would be permitted to expand 
east to reduce its population density. And to suggest that Hitler 
would have turned on France after exhausting the advantages of 
such a modus would be a misreading of 1 litler. We cannot claim that 
he intended to make colonial peoples out of less cultured Slavs and 
simultaneously claim that he intended to subjugate French and 



British peoples of culture equivalent to German. Hitler sought ideal 
but unrealistic accommodations with the French and British, but 
urgency in time — a distant goal and a single lifetime — forced the 
pace. Hitler would say that “we have made the world the most gen- 
erous offer ever expressed in history” and would claim to hope that 
the offer be accepted because it would not be made again. 29 In final 
analysis, Hitler would have had the ideal situation for advance east if 
he could have succeeded in a nonaggression pact among diplomatic 
equals in the west. But to have achieved this ideal settling of tradi- 
tional antipathies, he would have had to have made new Frenchmen. 

* * * 

During the whole period 1933-1939 within Germany, Hitler com- 
missioned cultural projects associated with the fine arts. These pro- 
jects and the significance that he attached to the fine arts give us 
insights into the man that rival any we are likely to get from his for- 
eign and domestic political actions of the same time. During that 
mysterious period of childhood and adolescence in which every man 
becomes set in final character, Hitler came out of the genetic and 
environmental cauldron as an artist. And Providence would spare this 
artist in four years of combat on the western front in order to deliver 
its message. The things above translate into a terrifying combination 
of artist and combat soldier, imagination and intensity. This interpre- 
tation is obvious and difficult, if not impossible, to refute. 

We glimpse a child painter in 1904 who would become a tow- 
ering architectural planner by 1933 and who, through significantly 
chance circumstance, became the savior of the Germans. The child 
artist became the adult painter and architect, but his potential 
artistic career would be ruined by his calling to become the German 
redeemer. Curiously enough, we have a unique piece of firsthand 
evidence that links the artist and the hero in the formative period of 
Hitler’s life. His young friend August Kubizek would relate, decades 
after a performance of Rienzi around 1906 in Linz, that Hitler would 


drag him to the top of a nearby hill and, bathed in midnight starlight, 
announce that he was experiencing a vision in which he would be the 
savior of his people. We see the artist and the hero linked already in 
Linz prior to Vienna, the war, and 1919 Munich. After 1919, the hero 
would dominate. But Hitler as historical rarity would be driven to 
integrate both painting and architecture into politics. This integra- 
tion has become well known. The great biographers present it, how- 
ever, as the work of a half-educated painter and megalomaniacal 
amateur architect. 

Kershaw would make the case that “outside politics Hitler’s life 
was largely a void” and that “he was, as has been frequently said, tan- 
tamount to an ‘unperson.’” 30 He claims that “Hitler’s non-political 
life is not a pretty one. We are faced with a vulgar [common, plebian, 
coarse] uneducated upstart lacking a rounded personality, the out- 
sider with half-baked opinions on everything under the sun, the 
uncultured self-appointed adjudicator on culture.” 31 This somewhat 
insensitive view of Hitler as private person is not only based on 
shaky foundations, but once placed on them, also magnifies misper- 
ception in the usual direction of underestimation. Hitler, for 
example, in the period of 1910 through 1914 earned a living in 
Vienna and Munich by painting in watercolors and oils, and during 
the entire period of 1904 (when he was fifteen years old) through 
1945 has been estimated to have produced between two thousand 
and three thousand drawings, sketches, and paintings. 32 Hitler pro- 
duced much of this work early in the period, and “most historians 
have underrated the early years of activity and have buried Hitler’s 
theories about art and his role as artist in fleeting references.” 33 The 
quality of Hitler’s paintings was in most cases excellent, especially 
from the viewpoints of both drawing skill and the rendering of color. 

Private buyers could be impressed, and Dr. August Priesack, an 
NSDAP archivist responsible for authenticating all discovered 
Hitler art, could relate experiences such as the following: “While 
searching for Hitler’s watercolors in Munich, 1 visited the chemist 
Dr. Max Schnel! He received me in . . . an amazing room . . . com- 



pletely paneled in wood . . . hung with lovely rococo carvings he had 
acquired from one of Ludwig II’s artisans. In the midst of these . . . 
royal surroundings hung six watercolors by Hitler which Dr. 
Schnell’s father had ordered and purchased directly from him in 
1913 and 1914 for twenty gold marks apiece.” 34 Hitler would match 
his competence in painting with studied reading of art and architec- 
tural history. He would retain an intense, informed interest in 
painting throughout the period of struggle as evidenced by his reac- 
tion to the 1931 fire in Munich’s great art gallery, in which its col- 
lection of German Romantic art was destroyed. Hitler rushed to the 
fire with his friend Heinrich Hoffmann and futilely watched its 
destruction. He would declare to his architectural mentor Paul 
Ludwig Troost that “his first project,” presumably among many 
others, would be the construction of a new gallery. 

Hitler had conceptualized by the early 1930s a German art to be 
painted by German artists and to have its purpose to pull Germans 
together into a homogeneous community. He would characterize 
international art as a descent into chaotic experimentation and 
divorcement from the community around it. In contrast, German art 
would have to be comprehensible and subject to eternal artistic stan- 
dards of beauty, pathos, and technical skill. Hitler would argue per- 
suasively that the concept of “modern art” was to reduce art to the 
level of contemporary fashion in dress with the motto “every year 
something fresh” — Impressionism, Futurism, Cubism, Dadaism. He 
would suggest that “there was a conspiracy of incapacity and medi- 
ocrity against better work of any age.” 35 Hitler would note with his 
characteristic knack for biting sarcasm that rather than a detraction, 
“it was only an attraction that these works of art were difficult to 
understand and on that account very costly: no one wished to admit 
lack of comprehension or insufficient means.” 36 

In his opening of a new House of German Art in Munich in July 
1937, Hitler would reminisce about the road to the completed struc- 
ture in apolitical, prophetic terms. He would reveal himself as an 
idealistic dreamer who valued a cultural renaissance for Germans to 


be as important as political and economic reform: “There is no 
prouder proof of the highest rights of a people to its own life than 
immortal cultural achievements, f was therefore always determined 
that if fate would one day give us power that 1 would discuss these 
matters with no one but would form my own decisions, for it is not 
given to all to have an understanding for tasks as great as these.” 3. 
Hitler’s words indicate that he was in deadly earnest about immortal 
cultural achievements as the basis of a people’s right to existence. 

He would pose the question: “Is not the satisfaction of the mate- 
rial needs of life for the time being of greater moment than the erec- 
tion of monumental buildings?” 38 He would answer the question with 
the analysis that “in [its great cultural achievements] is incorporated 
the deepest, the essential force of a people. But never is it more nec- 
essary to lead a people to this unending force of its eternal character 
and being than at the time when political or economic cares might 
only too easily weaken its faith in its higher values and thus in its mis- 
sion.” 39 Hitler drew a quasi-mystical, cloud-soaring image of a goal 
for new Germans that lay beyond politics and economics. Hitler 
would present these hopelessly idealistic words to a mass audience at 
the Nuremberg Party Day rally in late 1935, and it cannot be claimed 
that he was telling his Versailles-trammeled, economically straitened 
mass audience what it wanted to hear. Rather than a political propa- 
gandist exploiting the baser instincts of an audience, Hitler comes 
across as a passionate savior enlightening his people about what he 
was saving them for — superior cultural achievement. 

Hitler hoped that the new Germany would produce a few new 
Germans capable of being recognized as great masters who would 
“echo in music the emotions of our soul ... immortalize then in 
stone.” 40 Hitler would emphasize painting and architecture in this 
cultural renaissance and attack the chaotic and fashionably changing 
schools of modern painting as “the art of the decline.” 41 As part of 
such characterization of modern art, Hitler in 1936 would forbid 
conventional art criticism and replace it with art reporting. In such 
a system, “the critic” would describe works of art and “the people” 



would make its own judgment on beauty, harmony, reality, and so on. 
For diverse reasons political, esthetic, and philosophical, Hitler 
rejected modern painting as neither art nor skillfully done. 

For different reasons, the erudite historical philosopher Oswald 
Spengler would agree. He would postulate a supremely imaginative 
theory of the development of Western civilization in terms of its 
spring, summer, autumn, winter, and inexorable extinction. Within 
such a theory, art was possible in Western civilization only in its 
springtime followed by a brief autumn renaissance. For Spengler, 
Western civilization had entered its winter by the turn of the twen- 
tieth century, and the time for great art had passed irretrievably. He 
would opine: “We are civilized not [cultured] people; we have to 
reckon with the hard cold facts of a late life, to which the parallel is to 
be found not in Pericles’s Athens but in Caesar’s Rome. Of great 
painting or great music there can no longer be, for Western people, 
any question .” 42 He would elaborate that “we cannot help it if we are 
born as men of the early winter of full Civilization, instead of on the 
golden summit of a ripe culture, in a Phidias or a Mozart time .” 43 By 
noteworthily different roads, Hitler and Spengler had come to sim- 
ilar conclusions about so-called modern art. Spengler would assert 
that it could not be considered “modern” and could never be great. 
Hitler would assert that art could not be equated to changing fashion: 
He would demand an “eternal art” conditioned by the unchanging 
character of the people that creates and sustains it — Nordic Aryan 
through Greece, Rome, and the European Renaissance. Hitler cannot 
be considered to have been the amateur adjudicator of art suggested 
by his biographers. He was not only an artist but also a knowledge- 
able art historian and a prophetic visionary who would make new 
Germans linked especially by eternal values in painting. We are left 
with the uneasy feeling that an inscrutable destiny chose to write its 
will across the sky through the medium of an artist. 

Chapter I 


B y 1937, in foreign policy, I licler seems to have given up on Britain 
as the unique alliance partner that might have made possible a 
German free hand in the east. For various reasons, he had already made 
a fateful swing toward fascist Italy as appropriate for the circumstances 
of 1937. Hitler had developed out of the early 1920s a natural and 
obvious affinity for Mussolini the man and fascism, Mussolini’s polit- 
ical achievement in Italy. The affinity would not bear any practical 
result from 1922 through 193*3 because Hitler was not in power in Ger- 
many. And for several years after I litter came to power, the two leaders 
would face seemingly insuperable difficulties over the lingering World 
War I issues of Austria and South Tyrol. The latter was inhabited 
largely by Germans who had voted in a provincial government 
plebiscite held on April 24, 1921, with 145,302 votes in favor to 1,805 
against. 1 The Allies would ignore this expression of self-determination, 
and Mussolini would inherit a problem. He would have the military 
strength to prevent any union of South Tyrol with Austria, but he 
would face the nightmare possibility of a revived Germany achieving 
a union with Austria and endangering South Tyrol. After many foreign 
policy adventures, however, between 1933 and 1937, Germany and 
Italy had drawn together. During Mussolini’s state visit to Germany in 
late September 1937, Hitler and Mussolini agreed in general terms that 
Italy would have a free hand in the Mediterranean and Germany 
would have a free hand in Austria. It is difficult to overestimate this dis- 
tancing of Mussolini from Austria. For Hitler, secure control over Aus- 




tria would be the indispensable first step in the drive east, and he would 
be willing to pay the price of abandoning the Germans of South Tyrol. 

Only a month after Mussolini’s tour through Germany— 
although with no necessary cause and effect — Hitler would reveal 
the most astonishing intentions of any man in the twentieth century 
who had the power to carry them out. At a meeting to include the 
war minister, the heads of the three armed forces, and the foreign 
minister, Hitler would unveil some sensational ideas. The conven- 
tional wisdom has characterized these ideas presented in a two-hour 
nonstop speech as his plan for conquest. 2 But the characterization of 
the ideas as that of ordinary political calculation writ extraordinarily 
large in terms of evil intent does not fit the ideas or Hitler. As savior 
of the Germans, he actually intended to save them. In line with his 
much earlier comments of the mid- 1920s to the effect that “our ene- 
mies had better realize that we see things in terms of an historical 
vision,” he would present the vision. The great biographers would 
present the Reich Chancellery meeting in terms that “Hitler 
launched into a familiar theme” and that it was “the same old con- 
cept from which he had never strayed, which had become the fixed 
point of all his steps and maneuvers.” 3 The great biographers would 
denigrate Hitler’s vision by choices of words such as “the same old 
concept” that suggest he was mired in dogmatically held ideas that 
had gone out of fashion by late 1937. But Hitler was possessed by the 
single dogmatically held idea that he had a single holy mission. To 
denigrate him for inflexible lack of fashionably fresh ideas is to miss 
the point that messiahs are inspired not by fresh ideas but by one idea. 

Hitler would first swear his miniscule, elite audience to secrecy. 
He would then declare that in the event of his death, his exposition 
should be regarded as his final will and testament. Hitler would 
expostulate that his mission was to secure the existence of the racial 
community of Aryan, Nordic Germans into the unforeseeable 
future. With uncompromising logic, he would argue that the exis- 
tence of the Germans as a great people could be guaranteed only by 
enough space in Europe. Every word counted in this generalization 



because every bit of space was already occupied and could be mas- 
tered only by force. And force — Clausewitzian armed violence — 
was always attended with risk. No man at the conference, including 
Hermann Goering, had had an inkling of what was coming. As if 
arriving from some distant mountaintop inhabited by himself alone, 
Hitler had entered the room to announce German destiny. The great 
biographer Joachim Fest would mirror the conventional wisdom’s 
view of destiny as “sweeping plans, which required steady nerves, a 
readiness to take risks, and a kind of brigand’s courage.” 4 

But to refer to Hitler’s exposition as sweeping plans is to make 
the understatement of the millennium. Hitler had embarked Ger- 
many on a Nordic saga that would be inhabited by heroes facing 
risky odds against tough peoples who already occupied the rolling 
plains and vast forests of the North European Plain. The army com- 
mander, Werner von Fritsch, must have sensed the onset of such a 
saga when he remarked fatalistically not long afterward that “this 
man is Germany’s fate and this fate will go its way to the end.” 5 
Fritsch gets high marks for prescience in making this comment twice 
in 1938. Hitler gets high marks in favor of being interpreted as a 
world-historical personality: inspired by the circumstances of late 
1937, acting entirely alone, driven by some passion for absolute his- 
torical finality, he would present the onset of the armed German 
saga. The type of man with whom the world was dealing and the 
attendant anxiety of the times stand out in the following words, 
written earlier in 1920 by Albert Speer: 

Perhaps there are really uncomprehended “super” heroes all 
around us who because of their towering aims and abilities may 
rightly smile at even the greatest of horrors seeing them as merely 
incidental. Perhaps, before handicraft and the small town can 
flourish again, there must first come something like a hail of brim- 
stone. Perhaps nations which have passed through infernos will 
then be ready for their next age of flowering. 6 



Speer, the distinguished German architect, wrote these words 
seventeen years before Hitler’s somber November revelations, and 
they capture the man and the times as well as any. When Hitler 
walked through the door of the conference room, he would do so 
with “towering aims and abilities.” He would announce the “greatest 
of horrors” in the indispensable application of “force” in the east, 
but he would see them as only incidental to change in the course of 
history. On the other hand, both Goering and Werner von Blomberg 
would suggest to an unbelieving Erich Raeder that Hitler had pre- 
sented theater with the purpose to accelerate Fritsch’s rearmament 
of the army. But if Hitler had presented theater, then theater had 
become reality. The words of November 1937 would become the tri- 
umphant reality of 1938, continuing successes, and bitter end. But 
Hitler had presented the saga since the second volume of Mein 
Kampf and it remains difficult to this day to comprehend how men 
so disparate as Goering, Blomberg, and Konstantin, baron von 
Neurath could have been either so stunned by or so uncompre- 
hending of the November speech. 

The biographer Fest came close to reality with the incidental 
observation that the German conservatives, and especially the mili- 
tary leaders, “found to their astonishment that Hitler meant what he 
had said. He was, as it were, actually being Hitler.” 7 And to confound 
the conventional wisdom of the great biographers, this man, who 
would actually be Hitler at the conference, cannot simply be seen as 
an oddly constructed, banal-yet-terrible dictator. His words reflect 
the presence of a kind of super-Lohengrin determined not just to 
save the medieval western Europeans from the Hungarians for a 
generation but to save the Germans permanently. 

Germany would soon have the strongest armed forces in Europe, 
and if through some means they could neutralize the British, defeat 
the French, and seize the Russian heartland, they would decisively 
influence world history. This generalization follows axiomatically 
from the fact that the British, French, and Russian Europeans had 
seized so much of the world’s land surface and heavily influenced 



what remained. It cannot be said convincingly that Hitler intended 
world domination in 1937 or at any other time. But it can be said that 
Germany would have vastly increased its world influence through 
the effects of military “victory” in Europe. The conventional 
wisdom’s indispensable and never-failing comment that Hitler 
desired world domination must be taken in the spirit of the self- 
confident moral censure offered. The same wisdom has presented 
the words of November as Hitler’s plan for conquest, but the “plan” 
did not contain a hint of world dominion. The words of November 
as scribbled so fiercely by Colonel Hossbach for posterity say it all — 
Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the rendering harmless of the 
British threat, the defeat of France, the conquest and occupation of 
western Russia. Hitler’s vision was not trivial, and it allows us to 
characterize him as a world-historical personality but not as pos- 
sessed by some chimerical drive to enslave the world. 

At this point we see a subtle circumstance that surrounded Hitler, 
and it was his probability-defying luck — his providentially successful 
affair with chance. Instead of being doomed by an ill-fated chance 
event in either his personal life or the historical actions associated 
with him from 1914 through 1940, he flourished. What seems to be an 
obscure point of passing interest may define the man himself. It would 
be difficult to define luck as a fundamental characteristic of most 
power- accruing, evil dictators who have abounded historically. But 
the impossibly rare world-historical personality must tempt fortune 
and triumph over chance event to be such a phenomenon. Neither 
shell fragment nor sniper’s bullet nor war gas either killed or maimed 
Hitler during his almost four and one-half years at the front in the 
west. No bullet got him in a Munich street in November 1923. 

In politics, Hitler would be similarly favored by chance circum- 
stance. He would repeatedly face unforeseen happenings that some- 
times portended disaster and other times represented providential 
opportunity. Examples are legion. He would survive the chance dis- 
aster of November 1923 and turn it into the providential opportu- 
nity of the trial and fortress detention of 1924. And when the legal 



takeover of Germany and the leadership principle balanced on a 
razor’s edge a decade later with the effective defection of Gregor 
Strasser, this redoubtable leader would suddenly crumble and leave 
Germany for a vacation in Italy. It must be less of a surprise, there- 
fore, when Hitler faced the indecisive conservatism and lack of com- 
prehension of his 1937 vision on the part of the war minister and the 
army commander, and chance materialized to banish them. 

What is the probability that the war minister would marry a reg- 
istered prostitute with an arrest record, Hitler and Goering would be 
witnesses to the wedding, and the ceremony would take place only 
two months after Hitler’s November testament? And what is the 
probability that at virtually the same time, a police file would be pro- 
duced that showed that an army officer named Fritsch had once been 
charged with homosexuality? The Blomberg affair had stemmed 
from his own bad judgment in choice of wife. The Fritsch affair had 
resulted from inept police work on Reinhard Heydrich’s part in 
failing to realize that the Fritsch of the police dossier was not the 
army commander. In both cases, Hitler stood desperately embar- 
rassed. He had to distance himself from Blomberg and conceal a 
prestige-damaging situation. Although Fritsch would prove to be 
innocent, such are the evil vagaries of false accusation that Hitler 
would be forced to part with him and similarly hide the actual cir- 
cumstances. Blomberg and Fritsch were officially said to have retired 
on health grounds. 8 Hitler would explain to his cabinet in what would 
prove to be its last meeting the need to stick to the official version of 
events. Quite by chance, therefore, Hitler would reshuffle men and 
positions in such a way that the words of November 1937 would 
translate into the deeds of 1938 in Austria and Czechoslovakia. 

* * 


On the eve of Hitler’s foreign policy breakout of March 1938 in Aus- 
tria, therefore, he would no longer have the potential backing of 
Blomberg and Fritisch, who exemplified the old army, and Neurath, 



who exemplified the old diplomatic corps. We know this. We also 
know that Hitler had arrived at this propitious juncture through the 
support of the army for conventionally styled rearmament, the for- 
eign office for conventionally styled hegemony on the continent, and 
the leading German industrial firms for conventionally styled eco- 
nomic supremacy. But there was nothing conventionally restrained 
about Hitler’s sense of historical mission and the hats that he wore — 
unknown soldier, armed Bohemian, Rienzi, messiah, Lohengrin, 
Fuehrer, chosen one — all, perhaps, fusing into the impossibly rare 
world-historical personality. The great biographers, particularly 
Professor Ian Kershaw, give us sometimes brilliant detail of the gath- 
ering storm but in accounts that amount to a history of the period 
rather than a cracking of the Hitler code. Particularly at the time of 
what would prove to be the beginning of the German saga, we must 
understand Hitler or remain burdened with the underestimated man 
of the present historical interpretation for the years 1938 and 1939. 

Opportunity struck for Hitler in February 1938 as the Austrian 
government, headed by the Christian Socialist chancellor Kurt von 
Schuschnigg, struggled with accumulated unresolved frictions from 
the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1919. The Allies 
had set up an awkward, ineffectual Austria that consisted almost 
entirely of Germans but did not include the eastern rimland of 
Czechoslovakia that was inhabited initially by a solid bloc of 4.1 mil- 
lion Germans. The state was awkward because it was a tiny country 
dominated by the outsized capital city of a former empire. The cap- 
ital was also the industrial center of the state and held a dominating 
percentage of “workers” organized in a Socialist Party strong 
enough to give it the soubriquet of “Red Vienna.” But the Christian 
Socialist Party challenged the Marxist Socialists in Vienna and, 
along with Agrarians and Nationalists, would control the provinces 
and the other larger cities under an overall republican parliamentary 
system of government. The Christian Socialists, Marxist Socialists, 
Agrarians, and Nationalists all looked with favor upon the union of 
German Austria with Germany. The Allies, and particularly the 



French government, however, had forced the infant republic under 
the 1919 Treaty of Saint-Germain to renounce union with Ger- 
many and had forbidden the appellation of German Austria as the 
name of the state. After the treaty signing, the Republic of Austria 
stood politically isolated and economically crippled, and it was 
threatened by Socialist uprising internally and Hungarian and 
Yugoslav encroachment externally. 

Particularly in the southern provinces of Carinthia and Styria on 
the Yugoslav and Hungarian borders, Heimwehren (home defense 
units) sprang up and could be characterized as anti-Socialist, anti- 
Communist, and nationalist. They would engage in irregular warfare 
with armed bands of Hungarians and Yugoslavs until plebiscites and 
Allied pressure settled the border frictions by 1922 largely in favor 
of Austria. The Heimwehr formations would continue to flourish 
locally throughout Austria and be characterized everywhere as anti- 
Socialist. In 1927 the Socialists would orchestrate massive rioting in 
Vienna followed by a general strike throughout the republic, but the 
Heimviehr would defeat them everywhere and become a national 
political force. As such, the loosely organized movement became 
antiparliamentarian and aimed at the establishment of an authori- 
tarian state on the Italian fascist model. By 1931, however, the 
Austrian National Socialists had gained ground enough to absorb 
various Heimwehr units and grow into a movement dedicated to syn- 
chronization with Hitler’s Nazis. The Austrian situation would 
become a complex one that involved a struggle among the Christian 
Socialists of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, dedicated to an author- 
itarian state modeled on Mussolini’s Italy, the Marxists, and the 
Austrian Nazis. Internationally, the struggle involved the French 
government enforcing the Versailles and Saint-Germain treaties, the 
Mussolini government safeguarding Italian-held South Tyrol, and 
Hitler, who would redeem the Austrian Germans. The Austrian 
“people” tend to become lost in all of this. They can be generalized, 
however, based on the overwhelming vote of their representatives in 
1919 to become part of Germany, as still dedicated to redemption. 



By the turn of 1934, Dollfuss and the Christian Socialists, with 
the indispensable support of the fascist-styled Heimwehr , and under 
pressure from Mussolini to create a fascist Austria, would take mea- 
sures against the Socialists. The latter, with ill-advised militancy, 
would revolt in Vienna in February, but the Austrian army, state 
police, and Heimwehr would defeat them in bloody street combat. 
Dollfuss would dismantle the Socialist Party, and on May 1 he pro- 
mulgated a new constitution that would abolish parliamentary 
government in favor of authoritarian rule. Dollfuss would become 
dictator of Austria. He would rule through an authoritarian consti- 
tution with a single political party, designated the Fatherland Front, 
and dissolve not only the Socialist but also all other political parties. 
Dollfuss would be forced into internal policies intended to form a 
fascist-styled state and external policies that would demand an inde- 
pendent Austria. In such a situation, Dollfuss would run into resis- 
tance by the powerful young Austrian Nazi movement and be slain 
in an outlandish, abortive coup in late July 1934. The Fatherland 
Front would prevail and Dollfuss’s close collaborator, Kurt von 
Schuschnigg, would become the new dictator of Austria and struggle 
along with the same policies through the fateful February of 1938. 
By that time Hitler, through considerable diplomatic skill and luck, 
had detached Mussolini from his policy of support for Austrian inde- 
pendence. Through the chance occurrence of the Blomberg and 
Fritsch affairs, Flitler had gained freedom of maneuver internally to 
begin the German saga, still disguised in historical interpretation as 
Hitler’s foreign policy. And in a chance event within the Blomberg 
and Fritsch affairs, Franz von Papen would be dismissed from his 
four-year posting as ambassador on special mission to Austria. Imme- 
diately after learning of his dismissal, although sensing that he had 
served his purpose, Papen nevertheless decided to drop in on Hitler 
in Berchtesgaden “to obtain some picture of what was going on.” 9 
1'here, Papen found Hitler exhausted and “distrait” — inattentive 
because of anxiety — and offered the observation that “his eyes 
seemed unable to focus on anything.” 10 Part of Hitler’s anxiety was 



based on the disastrous situation in Austria. The Austrian Nazis and 
the milder, traditional Pan-Germans stood locked in incident after 
incident in 1937 with the tough Heimwehr formations of Schusch- 
nigg’s fascist Fatherland Front. On May 1, in Pinkafeld — a small 
town in the Burgenland — a young Austrian army lieutenant would 
order his men to take down a legally displayed German flag on a pri- 
vate residence. This small local affair would escalate almost instantly 
into an international incident and illustrate much about Hitler. On 
May 2, he would order Papen to report to him personally in Berlin, 
but on May 3 apparently forgot that he had summoned his special 
ambassador. Only on May 4, after being reminded, would Hitler 
receive Papen and the following scene unfold: “I found him red in 
the face pacing up and down the main reception room in Bismarck’s 
old palace. 'This is outrageous,’ he shouted. ‘These people cannot go 
on treating Germany in this cavalier fashion. This business of drag- 
ging our flag through the mud is too much.’ With these words he 
would begin a tirade of abuse against Apstria.” 11 Papen would con- 
tinue with the quite astonishing observation — not opinion, apologia, 
or self-justification — that “in accordance with my usual practice, I 
let him work off this outburst of rage, and for about half an hour 
made no attempt to say a word.” 12 Papen would then proceed with 
mild self-adulation to show how he would bring Hitler to reason and 
defuse the situation. The point is to recognize the precious observa- 
tion and innumerable similar ones and not to take the opportunity to 
defame Papen for self-praise. Hitler continuously made rational 
calculations in accordance with the diplomatic situation in Europe 
relative to Austria and made similar diplomatically shaded calcula- 
tions relative to internal affairs in Austria. But as virtually all first- 
hand observers have verified, he was characterized utterly by mono- 
logues of dark outrage on the one hand and shining images of a 
crowning German unity on the other. Hitler was a messianic tirade 
waiting to happen and then constantly exploding during the accu- 
mulating crises of 1937 through the denouement of August 1939. 
And if the messianic tirades were genuinely inspired, we cannot 



consider Hitler to have been either a European statesman or a polit- 
ical dictator. 

As we have seen in the diplomacy of the period 1933 through 
1936, Hitler held a tangible moral advantage in every major interna- 
tional crisis involving Germany. Similarly in February and March 
1938 during the Austrian crisis he would have a moral advantage over 
Schuschnigg and the Fatherland Front as well as the former Allies. 
And later, in 1938, during the broader international crisis over 
Czechoslovakia, he would have an advantage over the essentially 
Czech government and those of the former Allies. Perhaps during the 
whole period the essence of the matter may have been that Hitler had 
a moral advantage over everyone, and perhaps the way to get at him 
was to show why and how this was so. We have to accept the premise 
that Hitler was not a moral man but he nevertheless held a moral 
advantage. Hitler, however, was not immoral but rather amoral, and to 
so great a degree that he rose above or fell below any conventional 
context of good and evil. In effect, we cannot apply any conven- 
tional standard of criticism to such a man, and we are not suggesting 
a simplistic concept for Hitler that he personified the formulation 
that the end justifies the means. He would reiterate that any end for 
Germany short of the finality of an unassailably defensible state was 
not worth the effort. An end is an end, but such logical finality stands 
aside from any conventionally understood end. This man, this bundle 
of outrage and logical finality, entered the Austrian crisis, and we may 
have to admit that his outrage was deserved. 

When Papen, in February 1938, suggested a meeting between 
Hitler and Schuschnigg, the situation between the two states had 
deteriorated to such an extent that such a meeting was necessary to 
replace failed diplomacy, ineffective internal Austrian policies, and 
the shadows of the Versailles and Saint-Germain treaties. We know 
this. The great biographers, however, present the situation as one in 
which a wicked Hitler had caused diplomacy to fail and the Austrian 
Nazis influenced bv him had been the major contributors to political 
instability. The same biographers almost entirely ignore the founda- 



tion of the crisis comprised of the French imposition of an inde- 
pendent Austrian republic on bitterly disappointed Austrian Ger- 
mans. Ironies again abound because Hitler had been forced by the 
French and Italian shadows of the Saint-Germain treaty to conduct 
a remarkably restrained foreign policy vis-a-vis Austria. One irony: 
the man who in late 1937 alerted the army and the foreign office to 
near-future armed advance eastward had embraced and adhered to a 
policy of evolutionary change to bring Austria and Germany closer 
together. Hitler and Schuschnigg would meet in the notorious drama 
at Berchtesgaden on February 12, and Hitler would pressure him 
into concessions to be applied almost immediately. But the conces- 
sions were evolutionary ones that included specifically the coordi- 
nation of foreign policy, the appointment of the Pan-German Dr. 
Arthur von Seyss-Inquart as interior minister, and a sweeping 
amnesty that would allow the Austrian Nazis to participate legally in 
Austrian politics. If there were a bottom line to the Austro-German 
political imbroglio of the entire Hitler period from 1933 through 
early 1938, it could be seen as the entrenchment of a dictatorship of 
the Christian Socialist Party and Heimwehr over an artificial state cre- 
ated earlier by the Allies. Dollfuss as parliamentary federal Chan- 
cellor would suspend parliamentary government in March 1933, dis- 
solve the Austrian Nazi Party in June, dissolve all political parties in 
early 1934, demolish the Austrian Socialist movement in February, 
and soon after, in April, push through the national assembly a new 
constitution that would set up a Christian Socialist, Fatherland Front 
dictatorship. After Dollfuss’s assassination, Schuschnigg would 
become his successor as dictator for the next three and one-half 
years and not permit any national election. 

Schuschnigg would make the Berchtesgaden changes shortly 
after the meeting, and Hitler, in a restrained Reichstag speech on 
February 20, would praise them. Schuschnigg would reply four days 
later with an ill-advised speech, in which he would demand support 
for Austrian independence rather than emphasize the more relaxed 
possibilities of evolutionary change. His speech would re-fuse the 



situation. Clashes would escalate between the Austrian nationalists 
of the Fatherland Front on one hand and the Austrian Nazis and 
Pan-Germans on the other. Schuschnigg was unable to gain the sup- 
port of the Socialists internally and could no longer count on the 
external support from Mussolini, who advised him to make peace 
with the Nazis. But the French government, more than any other 
including the Italians, had been responsible for the creation of an 
Austrian republic in 1919. France was committed to the continued 
existence of an isolated, ineffectual Austria, but the French govern- 
ment could not expect its citizens to fight a war in support of an 
unpopular dictatorship. Schuschnigg faced internal violence, lack of 
external support, and suspicion that he did not have the support of a 
majority of Austrians for his strident policy of independence. In this 
situation he made the decision to panic — to act in the desperation of 
an ill-considered idea — and announce on March 9, 1938, the hold- 
ing of a national plebiscite the following Sunday. 

In announcing the plebiscite, Schuschnigg would annul the 
Berchtesgaden agreement with Hitler and stabilize the Austrian sit- 
uation in favor of his Fatherland Front if the Austrian people voted 
favorably on the question. The conventional wisdom has taken 
Schuschnigg’s action to have been a courageous one in the face of 
Hitler’s earlier bullying tactics, and a decisive one that would have 
made a union of Austria and Germany improbable. But Schusch- 
nigg’s courage, if we grant him such, would have resulted in the 
permanent division of the German peoples and the entrenchment 
of a single-party dictatorship in Austria. Schuschnigg would frame 
the question, “Are you in favor of a free and German, independent 
and social, a Christian and united Austria?” It was a heavily propa- 
gandized jumble of words that invited a yes answer. And the result 
of a yes-vote for the plebiscite would have been the almost diabol- 
ical outcome that an artificial state created by an Allied force of 
arms would have been transformed by a self-serving Austrian polit- 
ical dictatorship into a stable artificial state. 

And Schuschnigg scores high marks for manipulation of the 



plebiscite. Only three days were available for its organization within 
Austria, and the same, apparently impossibly short, time period for 
Hitler to prevent it by outside pressure. Because the Austrian dicta- 
torship had not allowed elections for the preceding four years, the 
electoral register had not been kept up to date. There would not be 
enough time to organize the ballot, particularly in the remote rural 
areas where the Nazis were strongly represented, and it would be 
impossible to register in three days the younger voters who had 
come of age since 1934. 13 

In summary, a somewhat common political dictator in Austria 
would attempt to keep in power a Fatherland Front through a des- 
perate, shady plebiscite in the face of a neighboring dictator. The 
descriptor shady is a strong one for serious historical interpretation of 
Schuschnigg’s action, but it is borne out by the following outlandish 
detail: a voter who wished to vote yes on the plebiscite question would 
be provided a ballot at polling stations. A voter who wished to vote no 
would have to present his own ballot of specified form and validated 
only with a stamp purchased from the government. It is difficult to sep- 
arate good from evil in all of this. The great biographers must present 
Hitler as an uneducated, banal man immersed in wicked purpose and 
Schuschnigg as a calmer, nicer intellectual struggling to shield Austria 
from Hitler. But the Austrian Empire had vanished, and to conjure up 
its German fragment as a bona fide independent state was to proceed 
from false premise. With the empire gone, its German fragment had 
become what it had always been as the Ostmark — the eastern march or 
frontier area of the Germans in a half-enveloping sea of Slavs and 
Magyars. For various reasons, some wicked and some not-so-wicked, 
Hitler had determined to save the Germans of the Ostmark from their 
political defenselessness and economic isolation. And for various rea- 
sons, some wicked and others not-so-wicked, Schuschnigg had deter- 
mined to enforce the division of the Germans in the southeast. 

It is one thing to seize an opportunity and another to be forced 
to take action. Schuschnigg would spend Thursday resolutely 
adhering to his decision to abrogate the Berchtesgaden agreement. 



Hitler spent the same day alerting the German army to a probable 
advance into Austria on Saturday morning. Schuschnigg would go to 
bed Thursday evening fully satisfied that the Nazi threat to the 
plebiscite had been scotched. 14 At two o’clock Friday morning, how- 
ever, the German army general staff issued a completely improvised 
written invasion plan designated Operation Otto. The plan assigned 
the Sixteenth Army Corps as the spearhead of the entire operation 
on an axis from Passau (east of Munich on the Danube River) 
through Linz (Hitler’s “home town”) and Saint Poelten to Vienna, a 
distance of 170 miles. The corps held the only panzer divisions of 
the German army in existence at that moment, and only the Second 
Panzer Division, stationed around Wuerzburg 250 miles from 
Passau, could get to the Austrian border in time to lead the advance 
on Vienna. By midnight on Thursday, the corps commander had 
already issued orders by spoken word for the Second Panzer Divi- 
sion and its single motorized reinforcing unit, the Berlin-stationed 
Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (Hitler Bodyguard Regiment) “to move 
off at once with destination Passau.” 15 The two military units would 
be located 250 miles and 428 miles, respectively, from the border 
very early on Friday morning and ordered to move across it at eight 
o’clock in the morning on Saturday. 

In a unique analysis of the possibilities of armed advance into 
Austria, it could be noted that ordinary nonmotorized divisions 
would have taken approximately seven days to march to Vienna at 
an optimistic rate of twenty-four miles a day. In the actual event, 
Generalleutnant Heinz Guderian’s Second Panzer Division moved 
across the border one hour later, at nine o’clock, but its powerful 
advanced detachment of two panzer reconnaissance battalions and 
one motorcycle rifle battalion accompanied by Gudcrian reached 
Linz at noon. As he was leaving the town in the direction of Saint 
Poelten and Vienna, Guderian met Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich 
Himmler and the Austrian federal chancellor Seyss-lnquart, who 
requested him to secure the city for the arrival of Hitler later in the 
afternoon. Guderian would accomplish the task with the main body 



of the panzer division while ordering the advanced detachment to 
move out toward Vienna but halt at Saint Poelten. Hitler would 
arrive at dark, and Guderian, as eye witness to the scene, would com- 
ment: “Neither before nor since have I ever seen such tremendous 
enthusiasm as was shown during those few hours.” At nine o’clock at 
night, Guderian would move off to join his previously halted 
advanced guard at Saint Poelten and would reach the town around 
midnight. He would then personally lead the motorized formation, 
initially through a blinding spring snowstorm, into downtown 
Vienna by approximately one o’clock Sunday morning. His forma- 
tions had motored all the way from Berlin and Wuerzburg through 
the early morning darkness of Friday, and then the evening hours of 
the same day and into Saturday. In doing so, they would execute a 
completely improvised military move indispensable for the success 
of the political fait accompli. 

The man who had ordered this move had already exclaimed to 
Schuschnigg at Berchtesgaden: “I am telling, you once more that 
things cannot go on this way. I have a historic mission; and this mis- 
sion I will fulfill because Providence has destined me to do so. I thor- 
oughly believe in this mission; it is my life.” 16 Hitler was deadly, apo- 
litically earnest in his outrage over any man who would divide 
people identifiable as Germans. In one of the most violent incidents 
during his rise to power, Hitler, in late 1921, would personally dis- 
rupt a meeting of the Bavarian separatist Otto Ballerstedt. Hitler 
probably personally beat Ballerstedt during the ensuing disruption, 
and enough evidence of a breach of peace accumulated to send 
Hitler to jail for one of two times in his life. 17 Hitler took Ballerstedt 
and his advocacy of the division of the German peoples seriously 
enough to have him killed during the Roehm affair thirteen years 
later. 18 Faced thus with Schuschnigg and the immediately 
impending threat of a permanently independent Austria, Hitler — 
the man who probably hit Ballerstedt with a chair and stick — was 
forced by Romantic barbaric inclination and immediate political 
danger to pummel Schuschnigg with more substantial instruments 



of violence. It remains difficult to believe that the Austrian federal 
chancellor would take action that would force Hitler’s hand. Only 
days before, on March 7, Schuschnigg would dispatch an appeal to 
Mussolini, who would warn him colorfully that with a plebiscite he 
was preparing a bomb that would go off in his hand. 19 And on the 
day of the advance, the British Foreign Office would instruct its 
ambassador to Germany, Sir Nevile Henderson, to protest to 
Goering about the invasion. Henderson would deliver the protest 
but agree with Goering “that Doctor Schuschnigg had acted with 
precipitate folly.” 20 Friday in the Reichskanzlei would be the scene of 
precipitate action taken by Hitler and Goering in the face of the 
danger and opportunity offered by Schuschnigg’s precipitate folly. 

Goering would get much credit for the exploitation of the 
opportunities of Friday into the Sunday union of the Germans. He 
would bombard Schuschnigg and his cabinet with demands for the 
plebiscite’s postponement and Schuschnigg’s resignation. He would 
do this by messenger from Berlin and the sympathetic Austrian inte- 
rior minister, both directed by telephone from Berlin. At two o’clock 
in the afternoon, in an attempt at compromise, Schuschnigg agreed 
to postpone the plebiscite but not to resign. At three o’clock, 
Goering would demand in the form of an ultimatum that in addition 
to the postponement of the plebiscite, Schuschnigg and his cabinet 
would have to resign, Seyss-Inquart would become chancellor, and a 
telegram would be sent to Berlin requesting German help. At around 
four o’clock, Schuschnigg tendered his resignation in accordance 
with Goering’s ultimatum, but sixty-six-year-old President Wilhelm 
Miklas would refuse to appoint Seyss-Inquart as chancellor. 
Schuschnigg would have to insist, however, and at 7:50 p.m. an- 
nounced by radio to the Austrian people that his government had 
put itself out of business. Only minutes later, Goering would have 
this information and pass it on to Hitler, urging him to go ahead with 
the invasion. Under enormous stress from the international ramifica- 
tions of an invasion, Hitler would sign the order at quarter to nine 
for the march of the German Fighth Army into Austria the fol- 



lowing morning. The most important and immediate ramification 
remained the lingering nightmare possibility of an armed con- 
frontation with the Italian Army moving in from the contiguous 
border between the two states. At 10:25 p.m., however, Hitler’s spe- 
cial emissary in Rome, Prince Philip von Hessen, phoned to tell him 
that “II duce took the news [of the planned invasion] very well 
indeed. He sends his very best regards to you.” 21 

The great biographers paint a picture of Hitler as wracked by 
bouts of hysteria and indecision during the period of the announce- 
ment of the plebiscite through the pronouncement of the union. 
They emphasize Goering’s astonishing self-confidence and energy 
in crafting the ultimatum, pressing for the invasion, and recognizing 
the fleeting opportunity for an immediate final solution in the union 
of the two states. In an imaginative transformation, we can almost 
see Goering becoming Hitler on Friday and then again on Sunday. 
Perhaps this transformation is not so imaginative as it may seem 
because the fundamental thesis of Kershaw is that Hitler derived his 
power from innumerable followers who worked toward the Fuehrer 
on their own initiative. It would be a mistake, however, to assume 
that Hitler drifted hysterically through the Austrian crisis to be 
saved by Goering’s initiative. Papen, as eye witness to the Friday 
events, would contribute unwittingly to a picture of an ineffectual 
Fuehrer with the words that he “was ushered in to Hitler, who was 
in a state bordering on hysteria.” 22 But Papen would add, “I let him 
have his say [hysterical outburst], as usual.” and then say that it 
would still be possible to postpone the plebiscite if Hitler were to 
point out that it would not only be unconstitutional but also quite 
impossible to organize a free and fair vote in only three days. 23 

But Hitler would issue in the first hours of Friday morning the ini- 
tial directive for the invasion. It was a formidable document that cannot 
be attributed either to a politician or a statesman. It opens: “If other 
measures do not succeed, I intend to march into Austria with armed 
forces in order to restore constitutional conditions there and to prevent 
further outrages against the nationalistic German population.” 24 



Although the sentence is not short, it is simple declarative. There may 
be a danger of arguing too much from too little in it, but we can 
nevertheless use the sentence to interpret both Hitler and the crisis. 
Above everything else, Hitler ordered the army early Friday morn- 
ing to be prepared to cross the Austrian border early Saturday 
morning. There would be no bluff associated with the activity of the 
army on the border, although it would advance only if “other mea- 
sures” had not succeeded. But other measures had not succeeded on 
Thursday, and with time fleeting on Friday, they had been reduced to 
the final measure of an ultimatum. Goering presented this ultimatum 
as a series of nonnegotiable demands by messenger and telephone 
from about ten o’clock in the morning through shortly after eight 
o’clock at night. And when the new provisional Austrian government 
under Seyss-Inquart requested German assistance, he seems to take 
the palm for having overcome Hitler’s fears and hesitations. 

But Goering’s boldness was based on Hitler’s earlier express 
determination to march into Austria with armed forces to prevent 
further outrages against the nationalists. And as concerns Papen’s 
observation that Hitler was in a state bordering on hysteria, and if 
we take the word to mean an outbreak of wild emotionalism, then 
we must agree that he probably was. The wrinkle of comprehension 
for getting at Hitler is that he was wild emotionalism incarnate; it 
was his characteristic style. Papen would even say in the Reichskanzlei 
that “as usual” he let Hitler have his hysterical outburst and then 
brought him around to calmer reflection. In all of this, particularly 
with Hitler’s never-failing expressions of his holy mission, we see a 
fiery messiah. His wildly emotional outbursts during the Austrian 
crisis reflect outrage about the possible division of the Germans 
rather than fits of pique about Schuschnigg’s tough, clever action to 
abrogate Berchtesgaden. Hitler was especially outraged by the fact 
that, in an Austria that had had no national election for four years, a 
plebiscite would be conducted by a government that could call on 
the support of only a “numerically small minority.” 25 Hitler would 
estimate that Schuschnigg had the support of only 10 to 15 percent 



of Austrians and calculated the chances of success for an armed but 
bloodless occupation of Austria as extremely high. 26 

When Hitler followed the Second Panzer Division into Austria 
along the road from Passau to Vienna, therefore, he did so with a 
popular cause. As Hitler’s motor column moved along the road 
toward the first night’s objective of Linz, it was slowed in villages by 
demonstrations of spontaneous, delirious enthusiasm, some people 
touching his big Mercedes® as if it were a sacred relic. Demonstra- 
tions would escalate in Linz and Vienna to proportions inexplicable 
in terms of politics and deliberate propaganda. In the early darkness 
of Saturday evening, Hitler would address a throng in Linz in a brief 
speech that would include the following mystically cast passage: 

If Providence once called me forth from this town to be the leader 
of the Reich, it must in doing so, have charged me with a mission, 
and that mission could only be to restore my [beloved] homeland 
to the German Reich. I have believed in this mission. I have lived 
and fought for it, and I believe 1 have now fulfilled it. You are all 
witnesses and sureties for that. I know not on what day you will be 
summoned; I hope it will not be far distant. Then you must make 
good your pledge with your own confession of faith. 27 

Hitler would claim that when he “went forth” from Linz years 
before, he bore within himself the same profession of faith in a 
Greater Germany that filled his heart in front of the spontaneously 
emerged, delirious multitude of that bitterly cold Saturday evening. 
We cannot accept his claim as literal truth. We can accept it as 
invaluable retrospect, a contemplation of past events. Hitler would 
tell us today, and the citizens of Lower Austria earlier, that Provi- 
dence had charged him with a mission to link a German Austria with 
a German Reich. He did not claim that he received a directive, 
written or otherwise, from Providence, God, or fate in 1908 when he 
departed Linz for Vienna. He did claim retrospectively that it was 
fated he would save the Austrian Germans. He had already saved the 
Germans themselves from the Marxists, and on Saturday evening in 



Linz he had begun the ingathering of the contiguous Germans of 
Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Danzig indispensable for the 
eastern saga. We seem to see Hitler engaged in an act of naked polit- 
ical aggression, a conspiracy, to seize Austria by force of arms. But as 
Hitler would exclaim in a Sunday interview with a British news- 
paper correspondent: “I assure you in all sincerity that four days ago 
I had no idea at all that I would be [in Vienna] today or that Austria 
would have been embodied, as she is of tonight, with the rest of 
Germany.” 28 This does not mean that Hitler did not covet a closer 
conventional political tie with Austria but that he saw the whole 
business as a mystical fusion of the Germans. 

* * * 

Hitler would turn almost immediately toward action designed to 
redeem the remaining several million Austrian Germans who, at 
war’s end, had been forcibly prevented by the Allies to be included 
either in Austria or Germany. Instead, they had been pressed into a 
new state called Czechoslovakia where they had become an 
unhappy, oppressed minority. As messiah, Hitler stood outraged by 
the enforced division of the Germans. As a more conventional inter- 
national aggressor, Hitler had an unsurpassed appreciation of the 
strategic geographic dangers from a Czechoslovakian state allied 
with France and Soviet Russia. And as the Czech crisis unfolded in 
late spring of 1938, even Goering, described by Hitler as “brutal and 
ice-cold in crises ... ruthless and hard as iron” during the Austrian 
affair, would wither in the face of Hitler’s outrage and brinksman- 
ship over the situation in Czechoslovakia. 29 

The situation at the turn of 1938 was an enormity described suc- 
cinctly, accurately, but grudgingly, by Fest as one of the “inherent 

contradictions of the Versailles system Czechoslovakia was one 

grand negation of the principle on which it was supposedly based. Its 
creation had been far less connected with the right of self- 
determination than with France’s strategic interests. For Czechoslo- 



vakia was a small multinational state in which one minority was 
pitted against the majority of all the other minorities — Chamber- 
lain had once denigrated it as not a state but ‘scraps and patches.’” 30 
A solid bloc of Austrian Germans in the Sudeten upland region 
comprised the most numerous minority outside of the Czechs them- 
selves. The Germans were so numerous that they outnumbered the 
Slovaks; if numbers had been a basis for the name assigned the state 
it would have been Czechogermania. Hitler would address himself 
to this situation with consistency and intensity. The consistency in 
his spoken word was so great that the English scholar who gathered 
and edited his speeches and interviews would repeatedly edit out 
Hitler’s never-failing words describing the melancholy historical 
picture in Europe with the editorial comment that “the picture fol- 
lowed familiar lines, and it is unnecessary to reproduce it here.” 31 
Comprehension of Hitler, however, lies in the “familiar lines” which, 
in the case of Czechoslovakia, would comprise fury, intensity, and 
outrage over the melancholy picture of the Germans there. He 
would point out in a frightening and little-known statistic that 
600,000 Germans had fled the Sudetenland after the war based on 
evil economic conditions associated with heavy-handed food alloca- 
tions favoring Czechs over the minorities. 

As the Austrian crisis ended and the first Czech crisis began, 
Hitler would reveal himself as a towering mystic. He could argue in 
his final speech before the April vote for or against the incorporation 
of the Austrian republic into Germany that “I want to speak as a man 
who is him self completely guiltless of all that which Germany has 
suffered in the past.” 32 Such was simple fact. He would then proceed 
to the historical situation in which he had done his duty as a soldier; 
he had never delivered speeches; he had only obeyed orders. 33 Such 
also was simple fact. But he would follow with the half truth and 
soaring fiction of myth: 

And then after the war when T found my native land again divided, 
defenseless, deserted by all then I, as the nameless soldier formed 

REDEEMER 01 HE GERMANS. 1 937-1 939 


the decision: after 1 had obeyed ail these years — I would speak. I 
would tell [what | alone could lead to a resurrection in Germany 
... for that there is a condition: the people must come together into 

one closely united body I believe that it was God’s will to send 

a boy from here into the Reich, to let him grow up, to raise him to 
be the leader of the nation so as... to lead back his homeland to 
the Reich. There is a higher ordering and we are all nothing else 
but its agents. When on 9 March Herr Schuschnigg broke his 
agreement then in that second I felt that now the call of Provi- 
dence had come to me. 14 

These words help us to get at Hitler and indicate that neither 
political science nor an emotional search for the evil resident in him 
can help us much. Surely these words were intended to foster the 
myth of a heroically driven leader. But that was the point of Hitler; 
he was a heroically driven leader. 

It is so unlikely that he made up such a quasi-mvstical scene that 
we are left with the sculpture of a man who made a resolution and 
felt the call of Providence. We see Hitler functioning on a plane 
higher than that of political scientific “aggressive warfare” and dif- 
ferent from that of “evil.” And as concerns the lingering possibility 
that he nevertheless conveniently made up ingredients of myth in 
1938, Albert Forster would read a letter in April that refutes such a 
possibility. Much earlier, during fortress detention in Landsberg in 
October 1924, Hitler would agonize in writing that he had “but one 
longing — that the day might come when my former homeland might 
be included within the garland of the German states of a common 
[Greater] Germany.” 35 The longing would end with Hitler’s over- 
whelming success in the great poll of April 10, 1938, on the question 
of the unification of the Austrian republic with the Reich. In the poll, 
99.09 percent of combined German and Austrian German voters 
would opt for unification. The result was even more astonishing than 
may seem at first glance because, somehow, former Social Democrats, 
Christian Socialists, Agrarians, Bavarian People’s adherents, and so 
on. had become Germans on the issue of a single greater Reich. 



* * 


After the success of April 10, Hitler had become one of the most sig- 
nificant statesmen in the history of the Germans and without a 
single further advance would have achieved historical greatness. But 
within weeks of his success, he would lead Greater Germany 
through the so-called first Czech crisis. It would develop in April 
and peak in the Czech mobilization of May 20 and the parallel occu- 
pation of the German districts of the Sudetenland by Czech armed 
forces. If any point were difficult to interpret at this juncture, it 
would be the almost incredibly short time period for the develop- 
ment of the Czech weekend crisis of May 20-22. It was as if the 
“previous” Austrian crisis did not end but simply become part of a 
single Austro-Czechoslovakian crisis of the year 1938. Hitler had 
already postulated in speech and interview, beginning with his 
eight-point European pacification suggestions of January 1937, that 
changes would have to take place in the conditions “among those 
nationalities who are forced to live as a minority within other 
nations.” 36 And beginning in the late Springtime of 1938, the time 
had come to save the Sudeten Germans. 

The issue, in both the first and second Czech crises of 1938, of 
whether or not the Czechs had mistreated a solid bloc of more than 
3.5 million Germans, could be replaced by the issue of how these 
people got themselves into a position to be mistreated. Hitler was 
notably outraged by both issues — Allied inclusion of Germans in a 
Czech state and their mistreatment in it. In his own words, he would 
note that “it was a short-sighted arrangement which the statesmen of 
Versailles devised for themselves when they called into being that 
monstrous formation — Czechoslovakia. Its commission — to do vio- 
lence to the masses of other nationalities, to ill-treat these mil- 
lions.” 37 With bitter sarcasm, Hitler would develop a picture that 
Czechoslovakia “is a democracy, that is to say it was founded on 
democratic principles, since the overwhelming majority of the 
inhabitants . . . without being asked their opinion, were compelled 



one day . . . to accept and to adapt themselves to the construction 
which was manufactured at Versailles. As a genuine democracy this 
[Czechoslovakian] State forthwith began to oppress, to ill-treat, and 
to deprive of its vital rights the majority of its inhabitants.” Hitler 
would continue with the same sarcasm but on a higher plane that 
“the Almighty did not create [the Sudeten Germans] in order that 
by means of a state construction designed at Versailles they should 
be handed over to a hated alien power. And He did not create the 
seven million Czechs... to watch over and take under their care — 
much less that they should outrage and torture these three and a half 
million [Germans].” 38 

As the first Czech crisis peaked in late May, we detect the pres- 
ence of a man who could say with dizzying mysticism that “however 
weak the individual may be in the last resort in his whole being and 
action when compared with the omnipotence and will of Provi- 
dence, yet at the moment when he acts as this Providence would 
have him act he becomes immeasurably strong. Then there streams 
down upon him that force which has marked all greatness in the 
world’s history.” 39 Hitler would be relentless in both his mytholo- 
gizing and mysticism: “My motive as an unknown soldier in taking 
up the struggle for the regeneration of Germany had as its deepest 
ground my belief in the German people — not belief in [Germany’s] 
public institutions, her social order and social classes, her parties, her 
state and political power, but belief in the eternal values inherent in 
our people.” 40 But more privately he could state with little regard for 
Providence that Germany’s future depended on acquiring sufficient 
living space in Europe and postulate that Germany’s first objective 
must be to secure its eastern and southern flanks by securing 
Czechoslovakia and Austria. 

We seem to have two Hitlers functioning as the first Czech crisis 
broke in May, each dedicated to radical change. And if such were the 
case, the interpretive historical question for the twentieth century 
would be: Which of the Hitlers dominated as Europe edged toward 
war in 1938? By mid-May, Hitler had brought pressure to bear on the 



Czech government, most specifically on its president, the tough, 
unbending Edvard Benes. Czech Prime Minister Milan Hodza had 
been forced to announce a forthcoming nationality statute and to 
allow communal elections in the Sudetenland. Hitler would apply 
pressure through the Sudeten German Party, whose leader, Konrad 
Henlein, would present the demands of the German community in 
the form of an eight-point program for change announced on April 24 
at Carlsbad, a predominately German city of Bohemia located about 
twenty miles south of the Reich border. The points included overdue, 
just demands for improvement in the status of Germans, but also less 
reasonable ones for the synchronization of Czech and German for- 
eign policies and for autonomy for the German bloc. Benes would 
inflexibly reject the entire program, Hitler would inflexibly insist on 
it, and Henlein would inflexibly orchestrate resistance to inflexible 
Czech political authorities. Within such a context, tensions remained 
high and peaked on May 19, when the British and French ambassadors 
in Berlin heard “rumors” of German troop concentrations on the 
Czech frontier and passed on such rumor to London and Paris. 

On May 20, Benes, allegedly fearful of imminent German inva- 
sion, partially mobilized the Czech army “to reinforce the garrisons 
in the Sudetenland.” 41 On May 21, based on unverified rumor, the 
British government through Edward Lord Halifax as foreign secre- 
tary warned the German government that Britain would probably 
fight if the French intervened in the Czech situation. On May 22, 
however, Sir Nevile Henderson as British ambassador would verify 
that the rumors of German troop concentrations that he had passed 
on to London — the basis for the British threat of war — were 
unfounded. Neither the British military attaches surveying Silesia 
and Saxony nor the French attaches to the areas around Dresden and 
Leipzig were able to detect any signs of significant German military 
activity. Captain Paul Stehlin, the French assistant air attache, would 
remark that “our Czech friends . . . had deceived themselves to the 
extent of describing a military situation which existed only in their 
imagination.” 42 



It was unlikely that the excellent Czech military intelligence ser- 
vice would mistake relaxed German military activity for anything 
else, and the question begs, therefore, why did the Czechs actually 
mobilize? The conventional wisdom suggests that Benes ordered 
mobilization because of prudent concern over what nevertheless 
proved to be exaggerated and distorted reports. The timing of the 
mobilization suggests otherwise. The first of a series of long- 
overdue “communal” elections had been scheduled for May 22, and 
Benes was concerned over both the outcome and the potential for 
incidents in the Sudetenland. The massive reinforcement of the 
Czech army already concentrated in the Sudeten borderlands would 
serve to influence the election and maintain Czech control. At least 
one authority on the situation, although a notably biased one, would 
agree with this analysis. Hitler would comment that “in the present 
year in Czechoslovakia after a succession of innumerable postpone- 
ments of any popular vote, there w'ere to be held elections at least in 
the communes.” 43 He would then claim that “even in Prague 
[people] were afraid of common action on the part of the German 
and other nationalities . . . and that resort must be had to special mea- 
sures ... to be able to influence the results of the voting.” 44 Hitler 
would reason that for the Czechs to produce the required level of 
intimidation, they would need the massive demonstration of force 
associated with army mobilization. And as vintage Hitler, he would 
rage that “in order ... to give plausibility to this [mobilization] in the 
eyes of the world the Czech Government, Mr. Benes, invented the 
lie that Germany had mobilized her troops and was on the point of 
marching into Czechoslovakia.” 45 

Hitler’s comments comprise a plausible explanation for Bcnes’s 
act of mobilization, its timing, and the necessity to explain it in 
terms of alleged although bogus German concentration for an inva- 
sion. And Hitler would expand his argument to note that the Czech 
government “in its complete lack of scruple ... did not hesitate to 
cast suspicion on a great State and to throw all of Europe into a state 
of alarm, and was even prepared to take the risk of driving Europe 



into a bloody war.” 46 For whatever the reasons, however, and for 
whatever the potential consequences, Benes’s “infamous deception” 
would ignite Hitler into an enraged and unbending passion for the 
destruction of the Czech state. 47 The Western press had spread the 
story that Benes’s gallant action and British and French support of it 
had forced Hitler to call off his invasion. Ernst von Weizsaecker, the 
secretary of State in the revamped foreign office under Joachim von 
Ribbentrop, would present the deadly inanity of the hostile press sit- 
uation in the fewest words: “Hitler had embarked on no military 
enterprise . . . and could not therefore withdraw from one.” 45 

Benes produced an error of terrifying proportion similar to that of 
Schuschnigg a scant two months earlier in the spring of 1938. In both 
cases, Hitler had had no intention of taking military action in the 
immediate future until each opponent took ill-advised precipitous 
action. And in both cases, as well as an earlier one of similar impor- 
tance to him, he would treat his opponents as if they were anti- 
Christs, great antagonists who would fill the world with wickedness. In 
the earlier case in 1922, Hitler, as previously noted, would break up a 
mass meeting of his “most dangerous opponent” Otto Ballerstedt the 
Bavarian Separatist. He was the one who would divide the Germans 
into ineffectual tribal groups and would consign them all to historical 
oblivion. Hitler and his followers would incidentally shove Ballerstedt 
off his own stage, and Hitler, in a portent of bigger things yet to come, 
would be accused of “disturbing the peace.” Sixteen years later, Hitler 
would face Schuschnigg and Benes, both linked as men who would 
keep the Germans divided — although for different reasons and on 
bigger historical stages. In the case of Schuschnigg, Hitler would be 
forced to take immediate armed action to prevent the Austrians and 
Germans from remaining divided during his foreseeable lifetime. In 
the case of Benes, Hitler would be outraged by his mobilization 
deception, and as a result hyperbolically radicalize the purpose and 
timing of German action against Czechoslovakia. And, of course, 
Hitler’s contemporary antagonists and postwar biographers would see 
him as disturbing a peace greater than that of the Ballerstedt affair. 



The great biographers have spun the Hitler of both the Austrian 
and Czechoslovakian crises toward being an aggressive dictator. And 
although the biographers have acknowledged his sense of mission, 
none has given it precedence over all other things as the explanation 
for the man and his actions. From 1919 through 1938, this rough and 
somewhat uneasy balance had existed between the evil of the dictator 
and the potential for good in the morally superior messiah. It could be 
shown, however, that in every Hitler crisis from minor domestic to 
major foreign, both Hitlers had to have been present. By 1922, for 
example, Hitler had come to dominate in the no-account National- 
sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartci (NSDAP) of the day and was 
seen by his opponents as an outrageous demagogue. By the same time, 
however, he had attracted followers so disparate as Dietrich Eckart, 
Rudolf Hess, Hermann Goering, and Ernst Hanfstaengl, who would 
sense the presence of a personality capable of rising above politics 
and saving Germany. And, much later and internationally, Hitler 
wotdd be seen by the sophisticated although somewhat biased French 
government as an international criminal — the man who would violate 
both the Versailles and Saint-Germain treaties that forbade the union 
of the Austrian republic with Germany. Simultaneously, however, 
48,799, 269 German voters would approve of Hitler’s action and 
would raise him onto a dais above both politics and wickedness. 

After May 20, however, Hitler exhibited behavior and took actions 
that have remained largely inexplicable in terms of conventional 
international relations and conspiracy to commit aggressive war. His 
actions in the penultimate month of September suggest some inex- 
plicable urge to self destruction and general catastrophe. Earlier, after 
a hastily called conference on May 22 to reconsider the Czech situa- 
tion, Hitler would remain hidden, sequestered in the mountains for 
several days. Only after three days alone would he come down for a 
conference in Berlin with his military and foreign policy leaders on 
May 28, having made the unalterable decision to smash the Czech 
state by military means no later than October 1, 1938. In his decision, 
he would combine daring political-military calculation with pas- 



sionate disregard for potential consequences. But strong men domi- 
nated by passion rarely calculate. Hitler, however, both calculated and 
utterly disregarded the results of calculation. He would analyze that if 
the German Army could give proof of immediate, decisive advances 
into Czechoslovakia and defeat the Czech army within four days of 
the beginning of the attack, as reflected in the seizure of Prague and 
Pilsen, there would be no Europe-wide war. In the event that his cal- 
culation failed, he seemed to have accepted the resulting struggle as a 
heroic, holy war for German freedom. 

To comprehend Hitler, however, the most important factor may 
not be what he concluded but rather where he made his decision. 
What other political leader in twentieth century Europe would 
ascend into mountain fastness to make his decisions? And Hitler 
would make the great decision in solitude — no Goering, Walther 
von Brauchitsch, Franz Haider, Ribbentrop, or German ambassador 
to Czechoslovakia. Hitler would brood over maps sent from Berlin to 
calculate the probabilities of a motorized breakthrough force fin- 
ishing off Czechoslovakia so quickly that no British, French, Soviet, 
or Polish government — alone or in whatever combination — would 
make the decision to fight. At a higher level, he would commune 
with Providence over the timing necessary to achieve Germany’s 
destiny. Such timing would not be so much the almost insanely dan- 
gerous and precise October 1, 1938, but the time he perceived as 
soon enough to create his envisioned Reich in his lifetime. By what- 
ever means and entirely alone, he would transport himself to the 
level of an “unalterable” decision. Hitler would not get his war on 
October 1, but he would achieve the armed occupation of the Sude- 
tenland and the disarming of the Czech army formations in it. 

After signing the fourth version of Plan Green, the directive for 
an invasion of Czechoslovakia, Hitler would proceed with intensity, 
outrage, and intransigence so great during the summer that it would 
lead to behavior in September inexplicable to numerous contempo- 
raries except in terms of insanity. In that month, British prime min- 
ster Neville Chamberlain, in a private letter, would refer to Hitler as 



a “lunatic” and give other evidence that at the least he had come to 
believe that the Fuehrer was “half mad.” 49 “In the view of the British 
Ambassador Nevile Henderson, Hitler ‘had become quite mad’ and 
...had crossed the borderline of insanity!” 50 One great biographer 
would query: “Was Hitler actually on the edge of madness, or a sort 
of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?” 51 As concerns Edouard Daladier late in 
the game at Munich, he was impressed by the hard, strange look in 
Hitler’s eyes. 52 Sigmund Freud, now in London and world- 
renowned, would comment that “you cannot tell what a madman 
will do. You know he is an Austrian,” and when he took over that 
country it seemed to go to his head. 53 Carl Jung, as noted, would 
characterize Hitler as being in the category of the truly mystic med- 
icine man, and even his immediate entourage of chauffeurs, body 
guards, and personal adjutants would refer to him as “the manitou” 
— a mysterious power or spirit. Considered as such, Hitler could 
hardly have been considered as normal by a wide variety of people 
around him. As concerns the accusation of lunacy, however, we have 
blatant lack of comprehension of Hitler by the accusers. 

Yet as the crisis peaked in September, Hitler would present the 
historical rectification required by Germany and the action neces- 
sary to set it in place with unmistakable clarity. Dictators are able to 
present things more clearly than statesmen in democratic parlia- 
mentary states, and a thousand-year messiah more clearly than any 
dictator. On September 12, in his closing Party Day speech at 
Nuremberg, Hitler would say: 

What the Germans demand is the right of self-determination . . . not 
mere phrases. But if the democracies should be of the conviction 
that... they must support ... the oppression of the Germans then 
the decision will have serious consequences! 1 believe that I shall 
serve peace best if 1 leave no doubt on this point ... I have not put 
forward the demand that Germany may oppress three and a half 
million Frenchmen ... my demand is that the oppression of three 
and a half million Germans in Czechoslovakia shall cease and that 
its place shall be taken by the free right of self-determination. 54 



Tensions would rise in the Sudetenland over the next twenty- 
four hours, Czech state police would “shoot down” twenty-one 
German demonstrators, and Prague would declare martial law in the 
border districts. German invasion seemed imminent. 

Against such a foreground, the British prime minister would 
telegraph Hitler late on September 13 to suggest a face-to-face 
meeting to work out a settlement. Hitler would accept the sugges- 
tion on the afternoon of September 14 and describe his feelings 
“with a colorful idiom that would have perplexed Milton: ‘I fell from 
Heaven!’” 55 From wherever Hitler fell, he would invite Chamberlain 
to the great villa on the Obersalzberg for the first of a unique set of 
meetings. Chamberlain’s action shows a bold and tough negotiator 
on the issue of self-determination for the Sudeten Germans. Hitler’s 
action, and the earlier words of the Party Day rally, show an out- 
raged messianic figure dedicated to the redemption of his people 
held by force and circumstance within an alien state. And in this 
confrontation Chamberlain was dedicated to redressing German 
grievances in the cause of peace. He was armed with Hitler’s earlier 
demands for self-determination and in possession of Lord Runci- 
man’s findings that the Czechs had, in fact, mistreated the German 
minority during the entire period of the Allied assignment of it to a 
new Czech state. Armed with dedication and knowledge, Chamber- 
lain would address German grievances and the cause of peace by 
reaffirming with his own cabinet the necessity for German self- 
determination. He coordinated with the French and labored with 
the Czech government to accomplish it. Chamberlain would succeed 
in this no mean feat between September 15 and 22, but it would be 
too little, too late. It remains mildly bizarre that an Englishman 
would intervene literally in Germany and more figuratively in Paris 
and Prague to decide the fate of Czechs and Sudeten Germans in 
the name of an empire centered on India and a commonwealth 
inhabited by states so distant and disinterested as Canada, Australia, 
New Zealand, and South Africa. 

Bizarrely or not, Chamberlain would achieve agreement on a 



plebiscite in the Sudetenland and begin to earn the soubriquet of 
“appeaser” — one who accedes to demands in return for peace. 
Specifically, Chamberlain agreed to demands for Sudeten German 
self-determination in return for the halting of a potential German 
invasion. Chamberlain’s action has come to be seen as the pusillani- 
mous caving in to wicked demands in return for peace. But the 
ostensible issue in the Czech crisis was German self-determination, 
and Hitler’s demand for redress of so legitimate a grievance could 
not be seen as wicked. In revisionist retrospect, we could see Cham- 
berlain as not redressing German grievance quickly and decisively 
enough. After all, he faced a deadly combination of twenty-year 
mistreatment of Germans, and by his own estimate Hitler was a 
“lunatic” statesman, although one with morally superior demands 
and fearsome power to back them. In immediate crisis time in Sep- 
tember, Chamberlain had acted with remarkable speed and decision. 
But from 1918 through 1938, previous British governments had 
failed to redress epic German grievances and victimizations. In the 
presence of those inequities that had been created and accumulated 
during the longer period, Chamberlain and his advisors seem 
strangely out of touch with the human condition of the Germans — 
now Hitler’s Germans, thanks to that lack of touch. Chamberlain, for 
example, had arrived in Berchtesgaden not empowered through con- 
sultation with his cabinet to come to an agreement with Hitler on 
the issue of self-determination. And he had arrived knowing that 
Lord Runciman, as a result of his August mission to Czechoslovakia, 
had determined that the Sudeten Germans had bona fide, long-term 
grievances. Over the following seven days, Chamberlain and Dal- 
adier would agree on self-determination for the Germans and force 
their decision on Bencs. When Chamberlain met with Hitler again, 
this time at Bad Godesberg on the Middle Rhine, he would present 
him with the near-impossible victory of self-determination for the 
outliers of the German flock. 

The conventional wisdom has interpreted Chamberlain’s achieve- 
ment as the beginning of the “dismemberment” of Czechoslovakia. 



Perhaps more realistically, it could be seen as the ending of injustice 
to the Sudeten Germans. Either way — dismemberment for the 
Czechs or justice for the Germans — Hitler would steer Europe into 
the culminating final seven days of the Czech crisis. Those days 
remain astonishing for Hitler’s intensity in the pursuit of his written 
intent to smash the Czech state and his outrage over the misfortune of 
the Germans in it. With the accomplishment of self-determination for 
the Germans in his hands on the late afternoon of September 22, 
Hitler would present Chamberlain with the “softly and almost 
regretfully”-spoken words: “I am exceedingly sorry, Mr. Chamber- 
lain, but I can no longer discuss these matters. This solution, after 
the developments of the last few days is no longer [capable of being 
put into effect].” 56 The following late evening of September 23, 
Hitler would present Chamberlain with the fresh, near-impossible 
demand for the immediate evacuation — to be completed by Sep- 
tember 28 — of Sudeten territory determined to be German 
according to earlier census data. Around midnight, Hitler would 
make a concession to delay Czech evacuation until October 1, and 
Chamberlain would depart later in the morning to reveal the ulti- 
matum to the British cabinet and the French and Czech govern- 
ments. Both the French and Czechs would reject outright seizure of 
the predominately German part of the Sudetenland. And, although 
faced with the clear and present reluctance of the Commonwealth 
states to support a war over the Sudetenland, Chamberlain would 
warn Hitler of probable British support for the Czechs and French 
in the event of war. By the evening of September 26, 1938, war 
loomed in Europe. 

The great biographers present Hitler as one who would smash 
the Czech state and continue on to smash a notable variety of larger 
states as part of a conspiracy to commit aggressive war. Kershaw 
would even reject the notion that the Germans had any moral case 
at all during the Czech affair with the remarkable words that “during 
the Sudeten crisis, some sympathy for demands to incorporate the 
German-speaking areas into the Reich — for another Anschluss of 



sorts — still existed among those ready to swallow Goebbels’s propa- 
ganda about the maltreatment of the Sudeten Germans by the 
Czechs, or at any rate prepared to accept that a further nationality 
problem was in need of resolution.” 57 These words are remarkably 
spare with the reality of the Allied assignment of over four million 
Germans to a Czech state in 1918 and the violence of their unsuc- 
cessful resistance. Most importantly, however, the words spin us 
away from the Hitler who could not have seen himself as part of anv 
conspiracy to commit aggressive war from 1918 through November 
1937. In that period, Hitler would portray himself as a nameless sol- 
dier who had come out of the war to orate nonnegotiable demands 
for internal German unity. 58 By August 1934, he had achieved a half- 
mystical unity in Germany, and by September 1938 would be on the 
verge of completing the ingathering of ten million Austrian Ger- 
mans. This Hitler did not get to November 1937 by leading a con- 
spiracy to commit aggressive war but arrived at that juncture from 
the heights inhabited by a handful of world-historical personalities, 
this one clothed as savior. This savior, this messiah, this complex 
Wagnerian hero, Thomas Mann’s artist, and Troost’s architectural 
genius, stood poised to initiate war in Europe in the last week of 
September 1938. The great biographers would have Hitler con- 
cretely conspiring to commit aggressive war more or less suddenly in 
late 1937 when for the previous twenty years he had been conspiring 
to commit the final, millennial salvation of the Germans. Either way, 
a war is a war. But the premise for each would be entirely different, 
and it would seem that a messiah was about to commit Germany to 
a war of salvation, rather than a power-hungry dictator to a com- 
monly construed war of aggression. 

Two things nevertheless stood out in the last week of September 
that show both Hitlers functioning. As aggressive dictator, Hitler 
would unveil that incalculably bold strategic idea that the year 1938 
presented fleeting opportunity for Germany to defeat the west and 
gain freedom of maneuver in the east. This hair-raising idea was the 
partial rationale for the fourth iteration of Plan Green. If executed 



on October 1, the plan would have resulted in the certainty of war 
with Czechoslovakia, the probability of war with France, and the 
possibility of war with Britain. The army high command and various 
high-ranking officers viewed the plan as insanely reckless, believed 
that it would lead to certain German defeat, and conspired to 
remove Hitler by force in the event of the order to execute it. But 
Hitler went ahead with his invasion plans, come what might, and in 
retrospect they combined elements of “shrewd calculation, intuition 
and an irresistible impulse.” 59 Hitler shrewdly calculated on the one 
hand and sensed on the other that literally with every minute that 
passed from 1938 onward, potential enemies — especially France, 
Britain, and Soviet Russia — would grow relatively stronger than 
Germany. Here we have a rare world-historical personality psycho- 
logically crossing a Rubicon that, in the final flow of events, would 
not have to be crossed physically. So much for the shrewdly calcu- 
lating dictator in this personality’s makeup. But the intuitive Hitler, 
the passionate one, the man of irresistible, furious impulse, would 
seem to have been the one who dominated after Benes’s terrible 
error in invoking the baseless claim of impending German invasion 
earlier in the year. It is too easy to see Hitler as dominated by per- 
sonal pique over that incident. It is more likely that Benes ignited in 
Hitler that apolitical sense of mission that dominated him as a 
“lonely wanderer out of nothingness” and converted him during the 
Czech crisis into a dark, remorseless redeemer of the Germans. 60 

At the peak of the crisis, on September 26, Hitler would pull 
together his view of it and place it within his invariably crafted his- 
torical context. He would do so in a speech at the twenty-thousand- 
spectator, indoor Berlin Sportspalast. The great biographers would 
characterize the speech as one of rare abandon and venom and 
therefore useless excess for understanding both crisis and Hitler. But 
Hitler was abandon, excess, and a kind of walking crisis, and his 
speech presented a compelling German view of the imbroglio and 
an insightful self portrait. The historical situation could be seen to 
have been so outrageous that its description invited abandon and 



venom. With effective psychology, Hitler would personify the mis- 
fortune of the Sudeten Germans in the person of Benes: “In this 
name is concentrated all that which moves millions, which causes 
them to despair or fills them with fanatical resolution.” 61 And near 
the end of the speech, he would emphasize that “the decision now 
lies in his hands: Peace or War,” and present as his last sentence: 
“Now let Mr. Benes make his choice.” 62 With superior propaganda 
technique, Hitler focused on a single enemy. But Hitler was more 
than propaganda, even though his technique was unparalleled in his- 
tory. Hitler would portray Benes not as the president of Czechoslo- 
vakia but as a Satan-esque figure who embodied the misfortune of 
the Sudeten Germans. Hitler was not doing propaganda; he was 
locked in battle with the forces of evil. Calculation, propaganda, and 
lust for power can take men only so far. Then a handful rise above or 
fall below all others through belief in mission and destiny. 

For an outraged messiah, Hitler would express his case with a 
peculiar emphasis on numbers. He would fulminate over his data 
that 600,000 Sudeten Germans had been forced to leave Czechoslo- 
vakia because of the ravages of starvation due to food allocations in 
the aftermath of the war. He would note that the Sudeten Germans 
had the highest death rate, lowest birthrate, and highest unemploy- 
ment rate of all the “German tribes.” 63 He would present cumula- 
tive numbers of German fugitives after the Czech imposition of 
martial law in the Sudetenland on September 13 as totaling 214,000 
by the time of his speech and claim that they were the result of 
German fear of violence from Czech security forces. 64 This mathe- 
matics of cruelty was probably accurate, supported Hitler’s moral 
outrage, and presented propaganda opportunity. We are presented 
with a rare animal who was capable of shifting easily from concrete 
numbers to the mystical union between him and all Germans. He 
would argue that, through Benes, the Czechs annexed Slovakia and 
“since this State did not seem fitted to live [took] three and a half 
million Germans ... in violation of their right to self-determination. 
Since even that did not suffice, over a million Magyars had to be 



added, then some Carpathian Russians, and at last several hundred 
thousand Poles ... I am naturally spokesman only for the fate of my 
Germans.” 65 

He would make a historical analogy between the 1919 French 
requirement for a 1935 plebiscite in the Saarland to assure a fair 
voice for a miniscule French population and a 1938 plebiscite in the 
Sudetenland to assure a similar voice for a huge bloc of indigenous 
Germans. He would quote the sometime French air minister, Pierre 
Cot, as saying, “We need [Czechoslovakia] because from this State 
German business life and German industry can be most readily 
destroyed by bombs.” 66 In his earlier September 12 closing address 
at Nuremberg, Hitler had made this same point with the addition of 
an exceedingly complex and sarcastic comparison between the drop- 
ping of bombs and the advance of civilization. Flitler would suggest 
that bombs carried on aircraft launched from Czechoslovakia and 
dropped on Germany could be seen by Cot as having a civilizing 
effect on barbaric Germans. 67 

By September 26 we can see Hitler and Chamberlain as crossers 
of the same abyss — war between Germany on the one hand and the 
usual allies and Czechoslovakia on the other. But through special 
emissary and resident ambassador, Chamberlain would point out to 
Hitler that he had already been granted self-determination for the 
Sudeten Germans, a fact that amounted to the seizure of the Sude- 
tenland in the brief time required to complete a plebiscite. War, 
therefore, could be seen as an inordinately high price for Hitler to 
pay for quicker completion of the already- agreed seizure. Chamber- 
lain, however, would be paying the same price for not allowing 
Hitler to seize the Sudetenland more quickly. We are in the presence 
of two apparent dysfunctional inanities. Both statesmen had agreed 
upon the transfer of the Sudetenland to Germany, but Hitler would 
go to war to get it immediately, and Chamberlain would go to war to 
prevent him from doing so. But Hitler’s apparent foolishness was 
none at all, because he was set on war in 1938. Chamberlain’s parallel 
apparent foolishness seems to have been based on the notion that he 



had done everything he could do to “appease” Hitler but now had 
been forced to stop at the immediate transfer of the Sudetenland. 

But Hitler was setting the clock of historical evolution in Europe 
to its correct German-saga time. More or less incidentally, he was 
also demanding an immediate halt to twenty years of injustice to 
Germans in Czechoslovakia. Either way, Chamberlain was giving up 
too little, too late. Chamberlain could not have known that he was 
dealing with a historical phenomenon. But even if he believed that 
he were dealing with an aggressive German statesman, he had dis- 
tanced himself from the realities of the European historical condi- 
tion. When Chamberlain returned from Munich to London on Sep- 
tember 30 and exclaimed with honest fervor that there would be 
peace in our time, his condition was not one of naivete in trusting 
the written signature of a criminal statesman. Chamberlain can be 
seen retrospectively to have trivialized the historical condition of 
continental Europe as one in which the righting of a single injustice 
to Germany — only one in a long string of similar injustices — could 
have been equated to the pacification of Europe. Hitler, in contrast, 
viewed the Czech crisis as another step toward setting a mighty 
clock of historical evolution to its correct time. 

Hitler would neither smash the Czech state in 1938 nor have his 
war with France. But his determination to do so consciously, as 
another step toward the securing of German destiny, places him in a 
rare historical category. Even Julius Caesar, when he took over the 
governorship of Transalpine Gaul — modern southeastern France — 
would not consciously envision that it was his destiny to string 
together seasonal campaigns into the conquest of “Gaul.” And when 
Napoleon initiated his international career as French revolutionary 
commander of the army of Italy, he did not remotely aspire to the 
conquest of Europe. Yet Hitler, who can be compared with these two 
in his effect on the course of history, can be contrasted as having had 
a superior sense of his own destiny. He would see himself as a 
German messiah as early as 1922. And as world-historical person- 
ality, he would dictate in fortress prison only two years later that a 



reckoning with France “can and will achieve meaning only if it 
offers the rear cover for an enlargement of our people’s living space 
in Europe.” 68 Then this man in September 1938, already embarked 
on a mission during the preceding sixteen years, would demand the 
immediate salvation of the Sudetenlanders. Chamberlain, however, 
as honest peace broker, would treat the situation as if it were a one- 
time Czech crisis rather than part of an all-time rectification of the 
European historical condition. 

As the month of September continued to unfold, it would be 
dominated by the first eight words of Plan Green, the single one, 
which was so strange, so hard, so peculiar to Hitler: that the situation 
was “unalterable.” The word seems to hover several inches above the 
innumerable pages on which it has been reproduced and to catch the 
eye as dramatic, mystical but extraneous — do we really care that the 
decision was unalterable? A decision is a decision. But an unalterable 
decision in the matter of an impending great historical event gets us 
into the realm of historical inevitability, a foggy area in which 
nothing is inevitable except the play of chance. 

When Hitler made his unalterable decision, he rose above the 
play of chance in history. In such a situation he could be compre- 
hended more realistically as one who would impose his will on his- 
tory and not as a lucky tyrant, the “gambler” depicted by his great 
biographers. In the final outcome of his unalterable decision, he 
would neither smash Czechoslovakia nor have his war with France. 
It would take the last-minute miracle of the end of September, how- 
ever, to prevent Hitler from having his war in 1938. And on the verge 
of completing that epic month, we should know more about Hitler 
personally and artistically. 

No less a critic than the intellectually well-armed French ambas- 
sador Fran^ois-Poncet would reflect on Hitler, after six years on the 
Pariserplatz in Berlin, in this way: 



[Hitler] is changeable, dissembling, full of contradictions, uncer- 
tain . . . the same man with the debonair aspect, with a real fond- 
ness for the beauties of nature who discussed reasonable ideas of 
European politics around the tea table is also capable of the worst 
frenzies, the wildest exaltations and the most delirious ambitions. 
There are days when, standing before the globe of the world, he 
will overthrow nations, continents, geography and history like a 
demiurge stricken with madness. At other moments he dreams of 
being the hero of an everlasting peace, in which he would devote 
himself to the erection of the most magnificent monuments. 69 

Fran^ois-Poncet has presented several Hitlers in the word picture 
above, and they include a stunning mixture: a capable European 
statesman, a man of justice and peace, a demiurge creative god 
stricken with madness who would overthrow nations, and yet a hero 
of an everlasting peace dedicated to the erection of the most mag- 
nificent monuments. To comprehend Hitler toward the end of the 
1930s, we cannot just proceed from the first part of Fran^ois-Poncet’s 
description, which roughly explains the destruction of Marxists, 
democrats, and particularists in Germany, the harassment of Jews, 
and the great international offensive against the Versailles and Saint- 
Germain treaties. And Fran^ois-Poncet, with the use of the 
descriptor demiurge comes close to presenting Hitler as the world-his- 
torical personality of Hegel. But in his perceptive characterization of 
Hitler as the hero of an everlasting German architectural saga, 
Poncet forces us into a fresh comprehension of Hitler as architectural 
genius and as the stage designer of political grand opera. 

And Albert Speer could remark in 1938, upon receiving the two 
earlier Hitler sketches as part of his architectural assignment to 
rebuild Berlin, that “what is startling is less the grandiosity of the 
project than the obsessiveness with which he had been planning tri- 
umphant monumental buildings when there was not a shred of hope 
that they would ever be built.” 70 And Speer would note that when 
Hitler handed him the two sketches drawn on small cards he would 
add that “I made these drawings ten years ago. I’ve always saved 



them, because I never doubted that someday I would build these edi- 
fices. And this is how we will carry it out now.” 71 In all of this, Speer’s 
word obsessiveness somehow slips by Hitler. With so pejorative a word, 
Speer seems to be presenting him as compelled by the devil to 
accomplish something wicked rather than as a man preoccupied 
with an idea. But Hitler could be qualified more accurately as 
visionary intensity. 

In 1925, the year of his two building sketches, Hitler put 
together a fantastic political creature of his imagination. It would be 
the reconstituted Nazi party of that year and could be likened to the 
chimera of Greek mythology, although not in the sense of a fire- 
vomiting hybrid monster. It would be tempting to present so un- 
attractive an image as representative of Hitler and the Nazi move- 
ment, and it is surprising that the great biographers have not. If we 
look, however, upon a chimera as the ultimate example of fanciful 
imagination and relate it with Hitler, we see a man with a chimerical 
style of addressing life. A British dramatist of the early nineteenth 
century related man, genius, radically inventive ideas, and chimeras 
in a brief line as “persons of genius in their wildest chimeras.” 72 We 
could see Hitler as a man of genius who existed in his own world of 
chimerically proportioned political and architectural expectations. 
We know that a single man in 1925 would go on to become the vessel 
of a Greater Germany in 1939. Less well known is that the entire 
other half of the single man lay in his vision of a new Germany in 
stone. After all the hue and cry of the political saga that Hitler had 
in mind for Germany, he had seen that by the end of a millennium, 
all that would remain of the great saga would be the ruins of the 
monumental architecture that he would create in his lifetime. 

By 1938, Hitler had given Germany four capitals — if we define 
capitals as architectural expanses — from which Hitler determined 
German destiny. He would lease, purchase, and use the small 
country house Wachenfeld as his center for solitary inspiration 
through one crisis after another and then begin to convert it into the 
Berghof super-villa from which he would be capable of running the 



Reich. And Hitler did not just order the Berghof to be built. He bor- 
rowed a drawing board and other implements from Speer to sketch 
the overall plan, renderings, and cross sections of his building to 
scale, refusing any help. Hitler also led Germany from Berlin, the 
formal capital. Munich was the psychological and administrative 
center of the Nazi movement, and Hitler spent much time there 
running the movement from the Barlow Palace (later called the 
Brown House) and from various hotels in Berlin from 1929 through 
1933. With the seizure of the chancellorship, Hitler would continue 
to spend significant time in Munich, not only relaxing in its conge- 
nial atmosphere but also conducting serious party and state business 
through the facilities of the Brown House. With the 1935 comple- 
tion of the Fuehrer Building and its twin administrative building on 
the opposite side of Munich’s impressive Koenigsplatz , Hitler would 
be able to do more than just relax in Bavaria. It is easy to forget that 
Hitler erected the Fuehrer Building in Munich and felt comfortable 
enough to host in it the Great Power conference of September 1938. 

From 1929 onward, Nuremberg became the site of the vast Party 
Day rallies and could be considered one of the four “Nazi cities.” 
Various masses of people would assemble as spectators and partici- 
pants in presentations, demonstrations, speeches, and the like, 
during both day and night. Hitler intended that the brilliantly staged 
assemblies would pull Germans together into a sense of belonging 
to a single body mystically bound by a sense of common destiny. 
The rallies were dominated by demonstrations on two great cleared 
and leveled areas of the Zeppelinwiese (Zeppelin meadow) and Luit- 
poldhain (Luitpold glade). The city, with its massive medieval build- 
ings, resembled a stage setting and would remind rally participants 
and spectators of a somber, common German past. 

This other Hitler can also be seen in the explosion of similar col- 
laborations with Fritz Todt, Speer, Hermann Giesler, Paul Bonatz 
(. Autobahn bridges), Ludwig Ruff (Nuremburg party congress hall), 
Werner March (Olympic stadium), and numerous other architects. 
We do not know if the enduring adolescent of Linz and Vienna and 



the sketchbook dreamer of the mid 1920s gives us a more realistic 
picture of Hitler than messiah or power-hungry tyrant. Was Hitler a 
political messiah with an irresistible artistic passion for architecture 
or an impassioned architect consumed by a sense of historical mis- 
sion? The answer would seem to be that he was a messiah with a pas- 
sion for the arts. We cannot even be certain that he was dominated 
by the politics of his mission to save Germany; however, he dictated 
in 1937 that for National Socialists every building associated with 
the German saga had to be a monument: 

These works of ours shall ... be eternal . . . that is to say not only in 
the greatness of their conception but [also] in the clarity of plan, 
in the harmony of their proportions they shall satisfy the require- 
ments of eternity . . . magnificent evidence of civilization in 
granite and marble . . . these buildings of ours should not be con- 
ceived for the year 1942 nor for the year 2000, but like the cathe- 
drals of our past, they shall stretch into the millennia of the 
future. 73 

Hitler would commission Paul Ludwig Troost earlier, in 1933, to 
design and build two temples of honor, each centered on eight iron 
coffins that would frame the east end of the main avenue of the even- 
tual Munich forum. Hitler and the entire Nazi movement would stand 
out in a kind of resplendent mysticism with the consecration of the 
structures and a roll call of the martyrs at midnight on November 8, 
1935. The assembled tens of thousands would answer together, “pre- 
sent,” with each call for the dead. Troost would be chosen to design 
the Fuehrer Building and the Party Building facing each other across 
a transverse north-south axis. They would be completed in 1936 and, 
along with Leo von Klenze’s 1 860 Doric propylaeum or colonnaded 
entry structure to the Koenigsplatz , would define the first Nazi forum. 

We see Hitler as dedicated to heroic imagery and open a door of 
comprehension rather than denigration. We sense his interest in the 
following scene: 



“The Professor told me that the stairwell in the Fuehrer House is 
being paneled today. I can hardly wait to see it. Brueckner send for 
the car — we’ll drive right over.” ... He would hurry straight from 
the car to the stairwell . . . inspect it from downstairs, from the 
gallery, from the stairs, then go upstairs again, full of enthusiasm. 
Finally he would look over the entire building. He would once 
again demonstrate his familiarity with every detail of the plans 

and sufficiently astonish everyone Satisfied with the progress, 

satisfied with himself because he was the cause and prime mover 
of these buildings, he went to his next destination. 74 

Several years later, after the completion of the Munich forum, 
Hitler would tersely assign the young Speer the mission to center 
Berlin on a super forum. His patience exhausted by the Berlin city gov- 
ernment, Hitler remarked literally with the force of law: “From now on 
you make the plans. Take this drawing along. When you have some- 
thing ready, show it to me. As you know, I always have time for such 
things.” 75 He envisioned a north-south avenue roughly four hundred 
feet wide and three miles long, which would connect an enormous 
assembly hall for the German people with a monumental triumphal 
arch inscribed with the names of the 1.8 million German soldiers fallen 
in World War I. The avenue itself could be used to assemble approxi- 
mately one million Germans on festive occasions in addition to the 
150,000 inside the domed Volkshalle at the avenue’s north end. 

The great biographers have interpreted this immense forum as 
evidence of architectural megalomania on the part of both Hitler 
and Speer. The use of such a word suggests criticism motivated by 
hostility and leaves us with both Hitler and Speer as megalomaniacs. 
We can hardly doubt that Hitler had a passion for architectural dis- 
play on a grand scale. In similarly scaled architectural works, how- 
ever, other builders have not been singled out as megalomaniacs. 

The Him Cathedral begun in the 1300s has the tallest spire in 
Christendom, for example, and no historian has disapproved of it as 
stemming from megalomania among the tiny numbers of Buerger \x ho 
constructed it. And Hitler would analyze it as a place of assembly 



capable of holding the entire fourteen-thousand-person population of 
Ulm in the 1400s. He would specifically point out to Speer that by 
medieval standards, the great Berlin Volkshalle was scarcely over- 
whelming. Philip II of Spain, after his victory over the French at Saint 
Quentin in 1557, swore that he would erect a suitable monument to 
God’s help. The result would be his construction of the Escorial, a 
gigantic, integrated monastery, cathedral, and library similar in 
dimension to the Volkshalle although located in a barren, lonely high- 
land northwest of Madrid. No historian, however, has hastily cited 
either the cathedral or the monastery as examples of megalomania on 
the part of the people of Ulm and the King of Spain. In the 1600s, 
with the construction of the Palace of Versailles by Louis XIV, histo- 
rians have noted fiscal recklessness and love of pomp and display on 
the part of the Sun King, but never megalomania. All of the structures 
of the middle ages and the early modern period are distinguished by 
their sheer size. Yet every one was linked with a grand purpose, which, 
for its realization, demanded notable size and monumental style. 

With Hitler we see a man driven to relate art and architecture 
with the historical existence of Germany. And with that solemn, 
annunciatory mysticism that would often come over him, he could 
present himself to the world as follows: 

What our people during the history of two thousand years has 
achieved in heroic greatness is numbered among the mightiest 
experiences of mankind. There were centuries during which Ger- 
many, as in the rest of Europe, the works of art corresponded with 
this greatness of the human soul. The lonely sublimity of our 
cathedrals gives us an incomparable standard by which to judge of 
the truly monumental cultural outlook of those ages. They 
compel us to pass from admiration of their work to pay our tribute 
of profound respect to the generations which were capable of 
planning and of realizing such great conceptions . 76 

In all of this architectural tumult, we may extract a significant 
part of the actual Hitler. We may find an architect who climbed 



some mountain of singular precipitousness seeking artistic fame 
only to emerge partway along the ascent from the underground shel- 
ters of a gunfire hell to become something else. Whichever Hitler, he 
was capable of expressing the scene: 

During the long years in which I planned the formation of a new 
Reich I gave much thought to the cultural cleansing of the people’s 
life . . . was convinced that peoples which have been trodden under- 
foot... have all the greater duty consciously to assert their own 
value . . . and there is no prouder proof of the highest rights of a 
people to its own life than immortal cultural achievements. I was 
therefore determined that if fate should one day give us power I 
would discuss these matters with no one but would form my own 
decisions, for it is not given to all to have an understanding for tasks 
as great as these. Amongst the plans which floated before me in my 
mind both during the war and after the collapse was the idea of 
building a great new exhibition palace in Munich . 77 

Munich would acquire the mission to be the capital of German 
art and “to be the home of the sublime and of the beautiful .” 78 Hitler 
spoke these words at various events associated with the buildings 
that would house collections of German painting and sculpture and 
embody state architecture. Hitler would conceptualize that art was 
art, created by the gifted men of various peoples and conditioned by 
the unchanging character of the peoples who produced the artists. 
Hitler would fulminate that art was not subject to changing fashion 
invented by artists and critics who had become hopelessly distanced 
from the people. Art was the eternal companion of an entire people 
and the ultimate measure of its culture. And it would be displayed 
in suitably dimensioned structures — large, gigantic, megalomani- 
acal, heroically bold — depending upon the bias of the observer. As 
concerns the size and the splendid ruin value in terms of marble and 
other natural stone, the Munich House of German Art seems to 
have been representative of the artist-architect Hitler. We can go 
farther and generalize that Hitler was the House of German Art. In 



his incarnation as artist-architect, he marches by us as a neoclassical 
monumental temple. 

The sheer size of the forums, associated structures, and assembly 
areas, however, has driven hostile biographers, historians, and Speer 
himself to accusation of architectural megalomania. The writers, 
however, fail to correlate the magnitude of the political victories 
anticipated by Hitler with the magnitude of the monumental archi- 
tecture required to celebrate them. The French would commission 
their great engineering son, Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, to erect a 
structure so gargantuan as the iron tower associated with his name 
merely to mark the center of their international commercial exposi- 
tion of 1889. Hitler and Speer could be seen in retrospect to have 
been less than megalomaniacal in dimensioning their German 
people’s assembly hall as a monument to the setting of the clock of 
cultural evolution to its “correct” time in Europe. 



In the twenty-year period prior to his assumption of the special bur- 
dens of war fighting, Hitler showed behavior appropriate to the cir- 
cumstances of his life. He made it clear that he could never marry 
because of the image necessary for a man who would save the Ger- 
mans and not just affect a program of improvements to last his life- 
time. He would make the point that no great leader in history had a 
son who had proven capable of continuing the achievements of his 
father. Rome, for example, had been favored uniquely with the two 
succeeding world-historical Caesars, Julius and Augustus — the latter 
a great-nephew of Julius and named in his will as successor. And 
Hitler on no account, for the safeguarding of his superhuman image, 
could risk consummated sex with virtually any woman. He was a 
remarkable ascetic who stood out as self-contained. Yet this man had 
an overwhelming inclination toward pretty young women. He was 
relaxed and charming in their presence and delighted in sitting next 
to and among them in social situations. He would commonly invite 



selected ones back to his quarters of the moment for brief continued 
social interaction. It is difficult to escape the suggestion that he 
engaged in touching, fondling, hand holding, kissing, and the like, 
actions short of consummated sex but safe physically and innocent 
enough socially to avoid political repercussion. This interpretation of 
casual and innocent interaction with casual female acquaintances 
such as showgirls, singers, actresses, and other entertainers is but- 
tressed by his similar behavior with closer acquaintances. Hitler 
would ask the twelve-year-old Henriette Hoffmann in 1924 if he 
might kiss her, and when she answered no, he strictly desisted. 79 In 
autumn 1926 he would be attracted by the sixteen-year-old Maria 
Reiter and go so far as kissing in a forest glade on the Obersalzberg. 

The first affair, and one which probably involved Hitler’s first 
dependence on a woman, developed slowly with his half-niece 
Angela “Geli” Raubal, whom he first met briefly in 1926 when she 
was only eighteen years old. It ended five years later with her suicide 
in September 1931 at age twenty-three. The second affair developed 
much more slowly and overlapped his relationship with Angela, and 
it was the second affair that would develop out of Hitler’s chance 
encounter with Eva Braun. She was only seventeen years old when 
he first met her in October 1929 in Hoffmann’s photographic shop 
on the same street as the Brown House. There were numerous other 
women in Hitler’s life with potential for romantic engagement or 
emotional attachment. Jenny Haug, for example, the young sister of 
Hitler’s first chauffer and early bodyguard of 1920, Hans Haug, 
would have been such a candidate. She would accompany him home 
in the back seat of his automobile as a volunteer, pistol-armed body- 
guard, and probably the petting and hand holding affected by Hitler 
occurred. But his first of only two unmistakable attachments to a 
woman blossomed when his half-niece Geli moved into his recently 
leased, expansive second-story flat at 16 Prinzregentenplatz in Feb- 
ruary 1930. His bodyguard and chauffer Emil Maurice averred that 
“He loved her but it was a strange affection that did not dare to show 
itself, for he was too proud to admit to the weakness of an infatua- 



tion.” 80 With broader insight, we could observe that in his chosen 
role as the holder of German destiny he could scarcely descend to 
the level of an affair with his half-niece. 

The great biographers uniformly march toward a relationship 
between Hitler and his young niece as one of lovers. They know that 
his father married Franziske Matzelberger, who was twenty-four 
years his junior, and Hitler’s mother, Klara Poelzl, who was twenty- 
three years younger than his father. But Hitler’s father, Alois, in his 
first marriage, would wed a woman who was fourteen years his 
senior. It is difficult to generalize about Hitler’s sexual preferences 
from the behavior of his father, even though the younger Hitler 
delighted in the company of young actresses and dancers at dinners 
associated with artistic entertainment. On the other hand, he 
declared his undying love for the more mature Helene Hanfstaengl 
in a somewhat embarrassing scene in her own home. Later in the 
decade of the 1920s, when he decided to move his niece into his 
quarters on Prinzregentenplatz , we are left with the picture of Geli as 
an object of both sexual infatuation and powerful protective instinct 
on the part of Hitler. Geli was interested in various young men in 
both Germany and Austria. It is doubtful that she was physically 
attracted to Hitler or had sexual relations with him: “He was too 
reserved to openly court any woman and too cautious to ruin his 
political career by taking a mistress into his own apartment particu- 
larly the daughter of a half sister.” 81 

Although the great biographers have seen Geli as Hitler’s single 
true love, we must see another young woman as his only real one. 
Geli cannot be said to have loved Hitler, even though he had become 
inspired with a foolish and extravagant passion for her. Hitler’s “love” 
for Geli was not only unrequited but also tempered by his perceived 
duties as her uncle and protector and the necessity to shield his 
image as Germany’s destiny. In late 1929, however, only months 
before Geli would move in with him on Prinzregentenplatz , Hitler 
would meet and become attracted to the very young, seventeen- 
year-old Eva Braun. Unlike Geli, who never loved her repressive and 



not particularly fun-loving uncle, Eva had fallen desperately in love 
with Hitler after two years of various encounters. Then, in 
November 1932, she would attempt suicide by pistol shot, “allegedly 
aiming at the heart,” apparently distraught by unrequited love from 
Hitler. 82 Unlike Geli, who would die through strikingly similar 
means (although for quite different reasons), Eva would survive 
through the fateful vagaries of pistol bullet trajectories. Hitler would 
take greater notice of her, she would remain his only mistress, and 
the years from 1932 through 1935 would be ones of tortured uncer- 
tainty for Eva as concerned Hitler’s love for her. 

In late May 1935, Eva would attempt suicide for the second time 
and would be miraculously saved as she had been in the first attempt. 
Hitler would be moved to acknowledge her devotion, and she would 
become discretely but ever so decisively his premier and only mis- 
tress. She seemed to suit him physically, with her trim and athletic 
fairness. He had become used to her and genuinely fond of her, and 
she must be seen as a special influence in his life. From the end of 
1935 onward, Eva could also be seen as Hitler’s ultradiscrete de facto 
wife, and a man’s wife must tell us much about the man. Eva revealed 
in her diary that she had been in love with Hitler since at least 1932, 
and we know that the relationship between them tightened and 
matured to the end in 1945. To know Eva, then, is to know a signifi- 
cant amount about Hitler. 

Heinrich Hoffman, who originally introduced Hitler to Eva, has 
taken the position that she was decent, nice, pretty, but even by her 
nineteenth year gripped by “a somewhat childish and naive air.” 83 
And she may have been lighthearted and perhaps even “feather- 
brained” at this young age. But she would pursue Hitler even so 
young with a mature determination and consistency. Hoffmann 
would also relent about his early impressions and in perhaps the most 
succinct, comprehending picture of Eva, write: “Later under the 
influence of the tremendous events through which she lived . . . Eva’s 
mental stature grew, her character broadened and deepened; and by 
her final gesture and decision to remain at the side of her protector 



to the end, she attained heights which more than atoned for the van- 
ities and frivolities of the past.” 84 A very different man, Albert Speer, 
would make a visit to the underground bunker adjacent to the Reichs- 
kanzlei in Berlin in the last days of April 1945 to bid Hitler a final 
good-bye. Eva would invite him to her small room and talk honestly 
during a time when Hitler had withdrawn. Speer could remark that 
“she was the only prominent candidate for death in this bunker who 
displayed an admirable and superior composure.” 85 She would say 
that Hitler wanted to send her back to Munich but that she had 
refused, adding the words “I’ve come to end it here.” 86 

How is it possible that the biographical bete noire of the twentieth 
century would have attracted so innocent, decent, and perceptive a 
child who would have become his wife in shadowed waiting in 1935? 
During the time that she had actively pursued him before the turn 
of 1935, he was in his attractive forties and not yet frozen into the 
forbidding figure of late 1939. He wore superbly tailored suits and 
uniforms and was fastidious in his personal hygiene, a trait identified 
by Kubizek much earlier with a nineteen-year-old Hitler. Several of 
his more important acquaintances would remark about his intense 
personal modesty and similar personal shyness. Men so disparate as 
Hoffmann, Hanfstaengl, and Speer would independently remark 
about these traits so astonishing in light of his ferocious public 
image. The young Eva would fall in love with an attractive middle- 
aged man. This man would soon be revealed to her as one of the 
important men in Germany after September 1930, the most impor- 
tant young man after 1933, and the leading man of the entire state 
from August 1934 onward. Eva’s tortured diary entries and suicide 
attempts in the face of Hitler’s early neglect show that she loved 
him. Her enduring of the necessary secretiveness of their relation- 
ship points to a loyalty almost beyond comprehension. 

Eva Braun shows how much care we have to take in pulling 
together a picture of Hitler. Thomas Mann flickers in, ghostlike, 
with his earlier admonition that although it is our duty to hate him, 
in our better moments we must acknowledge the fascination of the 



man. How many bad men in history have attracted so much fresh- 
faced attractiveness and sterling loyalty into their personal lives? We 
must add to Hitler’s capability to extract fidelity from the leadership 
and rank and file of the movement an ability to attract loyalty in his 
personal life. Love and loyalty in the personal lives of a man and 
woman are necessarily reciprocal, and we are driven to believe that 
Hitler not only loved her but would also be steadfast in his loyalty. 
Hitler would continue to delight in the presence of pretty young 
women at table and reception. He would navigate his way with polit- 
ical acumen through the looming, adoring presence of the beautiful 
young Englishwoman Unity Valkyrie Mitford. From 1935 onward, 
however, not a shred of evidence exists to suggest that Eva and 
Hitler strayed from their politically constrained love affair. To com- 
prehend Hitler better, we must see an athletic, decent, pretty one 
who dedicated her entire life to him and ask, how is this possible for 
the power-hungry creature of the great biographers? We can never 
know how much Eva saw in Hitler as an object of power to be 
exploited by her in terms of personal vanities and the increase of her 
own power over others. Unbeknownst to either, she would inex- 
orably become his wife in waiting and finally wife herself. Hitler 
comes off as loyal and decent in the relationship— the latter word 
being one that has no pejorative uses. 

* * * 

There are more pejorative words that can be used in the description 
of Hitler and “the Jews.” Hitler would be forced of practical neces- 
sity to deal with Jews as human individuals in personal encounters, 
especially in numerous business transactions in his intercourse with 
them as a skilled professional painter. Hitler would encounter these 
individual Jews largely in the years 1909 through 1914 in Vienna and 
Munich. He would be calm, modest, polite, and functional in these 
dealings. No exceptions to this generalization exist in the literature 
on Hitler. He had these dealings in the period before he went into 



politics in late 1919, and his behavior would probably have been dif- 
ferent in the 1920s. On the other hand, Hitler had these calm, func- 
tional encounters with the Jews of Vienna and Munich after “the 
scales fell from [his] eyes” in mid- 1909, revealing the Jew as the 
underlying force behind Marxism and the drive to internationalize 
the world. We are left to wonder how history’s arch enemy of “the 
Jews” interacted so easily with individual Jews under such circum- 
stances. The conventional wisdom has assigned to Hitler a visceral 
— deep, organic, emotional— hatred of them. But his interactions 
with individuals suggests an entirely different kind of anti-Semitism 
based less on emotion and more on hard, emotionless logic. He 
would remark in a more general context that he would be known as 
the hardest man in history, not the most hate-filled. 

Hitler can be seen as indifferent to the existence and presence of 
the individual Jews of a dispersed but cohesive international tribe. His 
behavior suggests an indifference that demands a counterintuitive 
reevaluation of the visceral hatred of Jews assigned to him by the con- 
ventional wisdom. The easily assigned concept of such behavior spins 
us into a Hitler seen as the personal enemy of every individual Jew 
and a man driven by some form of personal vengeance. But Hitler 
would claim that his 1909 studies in Vienna and his 1924 studies and 
dictation during Landsberg fortress detention would coalesce into an 
impersonal world-historical outlook. In this outlook, Hitler would 
proclaim the Jews — the extended tribe in its entirety — to be the 
supreme enemy of the Germans. He would proclaim this outlook as 
immutable Nazi doctrine and drive the doctrine to its logical finality 
in 1942. In such an outlook there could be no room for either personal 
vengeance or personal hatred. Anti-Semitism was a holy duty neces- 
sary to protect Germans from an international force. Hitler was pecu- 
liarly detached from hatred of the individual Jew and only lukewarm 
in support of tactical harassment that aimed to exclude them from 
Germany. These tendencies point to a Hitler viewing the Jews of 
Europe as an abstraction of pure evil and necessary to be eliminated 
if the National Socialist idea were to make any sense. 



Hitler would emerge as a thoughtful anti-Semite at the imme- 
diate beginning of his political career with his written exposition of 
the “Jewish menace” directed by his commanding officer, Captain 
Karl Mayr. Hitler would make it clear that the final aim of what 
would become Nazi anti-Semitism “must unquestionably be the 
irrevocable [expulsion] of the Jews” from Germany. 87 Rarely has a 
portent of things to come been so clearly drawn. He would never- 
theless maintain personal detachment from the German Jews and 
cannot be seen to have hated them in the sense of gutter, religious, 
anti-Semitism. As thousand-year messiah, however, he would 
refashion the Jews into a nonhuman body of evil marked necessarily 
for attack in seizing political power in Germany. As the same mes- 
siah and with an associated penchant for logical finality, he would see 
the salvation of the Germans as requiring their destruction. 

Given these general truths, Hitler nevertheless would pursue 
tough courses of political action throughout the 1920s that would 
involve little and often no anti-Semitism after a noisy beginning in 
1920. But even in that year, in the turning point, successful defense 
of the Munich Hofbraeuhaus mass meeting, the potentially fatal 
menace was from Marxist factory workers and not from some 
unlikely bands of Jewish toughs. And in 1923, the year of the near- 
destruction of Germany, Hitler would see the enemy as Marxists, 
November Criminals, provincial Separatists, and the French — but 
hardly German Jews. In early 1924, in his final words at his treason 
trial, he would sum up the achievement for which he would be 
known historically, and it would be as destructor of Marxism in Ger- 
many. Later, in the 1920s, he would focus his action against the 
Marxists and bourgeois November Criminals (the latter especially) 
in his 1929 attacks on acceptance of the Young Plan for finalization 
of German reparation payments. And a year earlier he would fly in 
the face of overwhelming German public opinion in favor of the 
return of the Germans of South Tyrol to Austria. He would actually 
complete an unpublished second book that argued that the enemy of 
the Germans was not the Italian government but rather the 



November Criminals who, by their lack of support for the field 
armies, had delivered South Tyrol to the Italians and were now 
exploiting a latter-day, opportunistic patriotism. We see relatively 
little anti-Semitism in the face of these issues and the reorganization 
of the party from 1925 through 1928. 

In the early 1930s we see the same dearth of anti-Semitism on 
Hitler’s part as compared with stronger concentration on other 
issues. In the 1930 Reichstag election he would attack a corrupt 
republican parliamentary system that put party interests above those 
of the nation. He would attack the Marxists — Social Democrats and 
Communists — for their internationalism and ineffectual efforts as 
parliamentary parties in helping Germans. More than three million 
German workers and lower middle-class breadwinners would be 
without work and incapable of supporting their additional millions 
of wives, children, and parents. The situation would intensify in 
1931 and double in numbers of unemployed by 1932, the year of the 
five great elections. In such a situation, anti-Semitic propaganda 
could not have had much effect on Hitler’s goal of seizing power. 
Germans needed work, especially from 1930 through 1935, not the- 
oretically tinged propaganda alleging a Jewish plot to take over the 
world and laced with gutter images of this enemy. In the years 1933 
and 1934, Hitler would face Marxism, economic recovery, Versailles, 
Roehm, and the opportunity offered by the death of the president. 
This litany of concerns for Hitler suggests that anti-Semitism could 
not have been either an effective propaganda theme or high priority 
for Hitler from 1930 through 1935. The situation becomes bizarre 
when we also consider that fewer than one percent of the people 
living in Germany in 1933 were Jews. 

Most of the Jews lived in a few larger cities — notably Berlin, 
Frankfurt, Breslau, Hamburg, Cologne, Leipzig, and Munich — 
where they were vastly outnumbered by Germans. The remaining 
40 percent of Jews lived in smaller cities, towns, villages, and coun- 
tryside in insignificant numbers and largely indistinguishable from 
Germans in dress and appearance. We are left to wonder in this sit- 



uation of insignificant numbers of invisible Germanjews why Hitler 
could consider them as towering menace and how he had come to 
see them as such. 

Several factors stand out. He had first identified ajewish presence 
in German Austria, an eastern frontier area with a significantly larger 
percentage of Jews that included large numbers of Middle 
Eastern-styled Jews. Hitler would claim accurately that the Western- 
styled Jews were present in the fields of law, medicine, university 
education, entertainment, and newspaper publishing in dispropor- 
tionate numbers compared with Germans. He would simultaneously 
be inspired to discover that these Austrian Jewish intellectuals and 
others in Germany were the creators of Marxism. Hitler’s studies 
that led to the discovery of the linkage were dispassionate, and “the 
Jew” for Hitler would become and remain an ice-cold logical abstrac- 
tion. In contrast, Hitler would pursue the destruction of this logical 
abstraction with intensity and passion. He would also be concerned 
with the Jew as alien but ordinarily human intruder in Germany. 
Hitler would place this less theoretical Jew in the forefront of his 
popular speeches that had anti-Semitic content. We can generalize 
that Hitler was consumed by anti-Semitism, especially with our 
knowledge of the 1942 decision to begin genocide. Knowing this 
oncoming genocide, we are almost forced to claim Hitler’s total pre- 
occupation with anti-Semitism from 1919 through 1942. 

Yet this tendency to do history backward can readily lead to an 
interpretation of Hitler that may be easily digestible but not neces- 
sarily real — Hitler emerges as a raging, visceral anti-Semite. It must 
nag at the reader that Norman H. Baynes, in his two-volume, 1,980- 
page collection of Hitler’s speeches, could annotate: “It is surprising to 
observe how little the Fuehrer has said on the treatment of the Jews 
by the National Socialist state. It would seem that the following brief 
collection of abstracts exhausts the material on the subject so far as the 
printed reports of Hitler’s speeches.” 88 And Speer could comment 
that it had repeatedly surprised him, in later years, that “scarcely any 
anti-Semitic remarks of Hitler have remained in my memory.” 80 The 



great biographers have noted ad infinitum Hitler’s prewar years of 
never-ending monologues at supper. In them, they note the recurring 
themes of history, art, Hitler’s experiences of war, and the develop- 
ment and success of National Socialism. Neither the great biogra- 
phers as researchers nor Speer as eye witness have noted anti-Semitic 
subjects in his prewar supper monologues. In contrast, in his collected 
wartime monologues Hitler spent more time discussing the Jews, but 
still only a miniscule amount compared with other subjects. 

Perhaps the above picture is not surprising. Hitler faced 
numerous enemies and challenges early from 1923 through late 1934 
in which the Jew disappeared into the background as concerns his 
success and survival. During this extended gap in anything 
approaching a dominating anti-Semitism, Hitler was able to main- 
tain in his mind the Jew as the Weltanschauung enemy of the Germans 
and pull up his granite foundation anti-Semitism penned for Cap- 
tain Mayr in 1919: “Jewry is unequivocally a race and not a religious 
community ... by thousands of years of inbreeding the Jew in gen- 
eral has preserved his race . . . more keenly than many of the peoples 
among whom he lives. And thus ... the fact that among us a non- 
German, alien race lives, not willing and also not able to sacrifice its 
racial peculiarities . . . and which nevertheless possesses the same 
political rights we do.” 90 Hitler thus, rationally and calmly, pictured 
the German Jew — Hitler’s German Jew. With this Jew in place, he 
would go on to describe his necessary future: “[Ordinary] anti- 
Semitism [based] on emotional grounds will find its expression in 
the form of pogroms. The anti-Semitism of reason, however, must 
lead to the planned judicial opposition to and elimination of the 
privileges of the Jews ... its ultimate goal, however, must be the 
removal of the Jews altogether.” 91 These succinct, prophetic words 
of September 8, 1919, lead unerringly to the Nuremberg Laws of 
1935 and the decision in 1942 for the physical destruction of the 
European Jews. The Nuremberg Laws deprived Jews of the rights of 
German citizenship, thus eliminating their privileges as expressed by 
Hitler sixteen years earlier. And by early 1939, Reinhard Heydrich 



as head of the SS Reich Security Service had been given the task to 
solve the Jewish problem through emigration and evacuation. By 
that time the effective deportation of the Jews had begun, thus 
advancing the removal of the Jews as expressed by Hitler two 
decades earlier. The question for Hitler biography as opposed to 
general historical account is: Who was the man who put all of this 
into motion in 1919? 

It is difficult to escape a feeling that the young man who began 
in 1919 to create the anti-Semitic possibilities of 1935 and who per- 
sonally created a Nazism characterized by gutter anti-Semitism 
stood aside from a large part of his own anti-Semitism. Hitler, how- 
ever, could stand aside only if he did not see it as an end in itself. It 
is doubtful that he saw anti-Semitism as such but rather as a means 
to the end of a distantly secure Reich. With so distant a goal, Hitler 
could not countenance a 1,600-year-old, religion-oriented, splut- 
tering persecution of Jews. As German messiah and world-historical 
personality he could hardly see mere harassment of Jews as resulting 
in the salvation of the Germans. Instead, we see Hitler imple- 
menting the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935 in a direct line 
from the epic, succinct, rational 1919 exposition of the Jewish 
problem. The conventional wisdom would see the laws as brutally 
stripping the Jews of their citizenship rights in a spirit not much dif- 
ferent from that of the emotional, gutter anti-Semitism associated 
with the Nazis, and particularly high-level ones like Julius Streicher. 
But Hitler stood aside from the emotive anti-Jewish aspects and 
would state that “it is true that we have made discriminatory laws, 
but they are directed not so much against the Jews as for the German 
people to give economic opportunity to the majority. 92 He would 
dilate that “the Jews who formed [fewer] than one percent of the 
population tried to monopolize the cultural leadership of the people 
and flooded the intellectual professions.” 93 Here we see Hitler 
making the argument that the Nuremberg Laws were intended to 
protect the rights of a crushing 99.4 percent majority of native Ger- 
mans in 1935 against the intrusions of an alien race. 



* * 


Thanks to a superb German civil service that ran the day-to-day 
affairs of Greater Germany and the phenomenon of National Social- 
ists in party organizations and the civil service working toward the 
Fuehrer, a country of eighty million functioned with modest demands 
on Hitler’s time. As the perfect Bohemian, Hitler had created this 
reality and reveled in it. As a Bohemian, Hitler did those things that 
personally interested him, including innumerable road trips, descents 
upon road and building construction sites, opera performances, art 
exhibitions, automobile manufacturers, the Nuremberg extrava- 
ganzas, and the great southern mountains of Germany. Hitler’s daily 
schedules in fixed locations were also monuments to indifference to 
common convention. In Berlin from 1933 to 1939, he would appear 
around noon for government and party reports and discussion, lasting 
a brief hour or two, and then proceed to a lengthy mid-afternoon 
lunch often “until half past four in the afternoon.” 94 After lunch, 
which normally included higher ranking members of the government, 
Hitler would have informal, impromptu discussion with favored 
guests lasting until around six o’clock in the evening. Then he would 
retire to his apartments above the dining area and reappear for supper 
around nine o’clock at night with an entirely different group that 
could be likened to a family and included adjutants, doctors, photog- 
raphers, personal pilots, and personal business managers. At the finish 
of supper at about ten o’clock, Hitler would have movies shown until 
roughly one o’clock the next morning and then hold forth on the per- 
formances and any other subject of interest to him until about two 
o’clock. Once in the sleep part of this twenty-four-hour cycle, Hitler 
apparently got along with seven to eight hours when not affected by 
any medical condition that would keep him awake. 

Hitler affected the above sequence when largely in control of a 
great modern state during peacetime in the period from 1933 
through 1939. The sequence qualifies as Bohemian to so extreme a 
degree that it is doubtful that we are dealing with an eccentric 



tyrant. For one man uniquely close in fellowship with Hitler as his 
most esteemed architect, “Hitler’s lax scheduling could be regarded 
as a life style characteristic of the artistic temperament.” 95 Speer was 
baffled at the way Hitler squandered his working time and would 
often ask himself: When does he really work? According to Speer’s 
observations, Hitler would often allow a problem to mature during 
the weeks when he seemed entirely taken up with trivial matters and 
then arrive at a sudden insight into its solution. 96 Similar to this 
Berlin style of apparent triviality and torpor, Hitler would spend the 
weeks before the great Nuremberg rallies on “the mountain” on the 
Obersalzberg, successfully avoiding the bureaucracy of a major 
power and putting off the dictation of his sometimes vast pro- 
nouncements on Reich policy. More commonly than for Nuremberg 
preparations, however, Hitler would ascend the mountain to conduct 
his life in the Bohemian manner of the artist who would not submit 
to regular work. Under the conditions of both Nuremberg prepara- 
tion and the rejection of bureaucratic process, however, Hitler 
seemed to have been “tinkering” with projected political actions. 
Those actions would have been of interest to him and known to him 
alone. We can generalize that Hitler did mostly what he felt like 
doing in the period, and only sometimes did what he had to. 

* * * 

In September 1938, this artist-messiah confronted Chamberlain, Dal- 
adier, and Benes, who had inherited ugly and outmoded historical sit- 
uations out of the past. Although Chamberlain and Hitler had agreed 
upon a plebiscite in the German districts at their Berchtesgaden 
meeting, the Czech authorities immediately began to use Czech army 
and police forces to frighten the German residents out of the country. 
Under the existing military occupation and with the institution of 
martial law the Czech authorities accelerated beatings of Germans 
and burnings of offending homes. Between the meetings at Berchtes- 
gaden and Godesberg, therefore, the Czechs daily engaged in acts of 



abuse associated with military occupation and martial law applied to 
a bitter foreign population. Hitler’s dramatic and seemingly bizarre 
capriciousness is explained significantly by the consideration that 
every day in which the already- agreed-upon plebiscite was delayed 
the German population would suffer more casualties and damage. 
Chamberlain was unsympathetic to the immediate occupation of the 
German Sudetenland even though “to be sure, the new boundary 
proposed by Hitler corresponded very closely to the line we have 
been considering.” 97 And Ivone Kirkpatrick, a member of the party 
that received Hitler’s repeated demand of “the need of immediate 
steps to rescue the Sudeten Germans from ‘Czech Tyranny’” was 
uneasy about the prime minister’s reluctance to agree to the imme- 
diate entry of German forces. 98 Kirkpatrick would think that “if we 
were prepared to agree to the cession of the territory, it seemed illog- 
ical to object to its [timely] military occupation.” 99 

Hitler’s revised memorandum of September 23 set forth his pro- 
posals for the redeeming of the rimland Germans as tersely as such 
a thing could be done with a view toward urgency and finality. But 
Chamberlain would characterize the document as an ultimatum and 
his accompanying ambassador to Germany would refer to it in a 
notable historical irony as "ein Diktat." Hitler would reply with a 
kind of sardonic innocence that it was entitled, “Memorandum.” 
Then, in a brief scene in which Chamberlain encapsulated the pique 
of a mighty overseas empire and Hitler the frustration of a powerful, 
more straightforward ground power, the following words flew: 
Chamberlain would observe that Hitler “was behaving like a con- 
queror,” and Hitler would retort, “No, like an owner of his prop- 
erty.” 100 Hitler would propose that since incidents involving vio- 
lence to Sudeten Germans were increasing, it was essential that the 
separation agreed to by the Czechs “be affected without any further 
delay.” Chamberlain would consider Hitler’s time table initially to 
begin September 26 and then altered to October 1 as so presump- 
tuous that war was the necessary alternative to the beginning of 
Czech evacuation of Sudeten German territory. In London, the 



South African high commissioner delivered a message to Chamber- 
lain from Prime Minister General James B. M. Hertzog which stated 
“that he and his colleagues feel that the Berlin proposals should be 
accepted” and reiterated “that South Africa cannot be expected to 
take part in a war over Czechoslovakia.” 101 And later, on the morning 
of September 27, Hertzog would sum up the entire moral balance in 
the crisis in a message to London that “if after this a European war 
is still to take place, the responsibility for that will not be placed 
upon the shoulders of Germany.” 102 

But war would not take place because, through the last-minute 
miracle of the September 30 Munich conference, Hitler would insert 
the Sudeten Germans into a Greater Germany. As the Czech crisis 
subsided and the Polish crisis dawned, the British and the French, as 
“the Allies” of 1918, would continue to bear fearful burdens for every 
important international crisis that had involved Germany from 1918 
through 1939. But how could Hitler, as a world-historical personality, 
be hemmed in by such a scene? Perhaps it could be generalized that 
the Franco-British times had created a German messiah who, by the 
turn of 1939, would complete the transition to a full-blown world- 
historical personality. No member of any British or French govern- 
ment could have known of the very existence of Corporal Hitler in 
1919, and none would know his intentions twenty years later. Seen as 
such, those governments cannot be absolved of their decision to fight 
a preventive war by claim of clairvoyance about Hitler. Fueled by 
their own earlier perfidies and injustices and according to an agenda 
of the continuation of hegemony over the continent, they advanced 
into a war forced on themselves by themselves. But Hitler, literally as 
a single man — although speaking for unwitting Germans in the 
matter of a European war — would advance into it as a war forced on 
himself by himself. 

We face a historical phenomenon of two bodies of blame occu- 
pying the same place at the same time. Such a situation can end only 
in an unsatisfactory interpretation of shared blame for the war and 
suggests the following reality: two wars broke out in 1939. The 



British and the French governments would open a war against Ger- 
many at a time and a place of their own choosing over the ostensible 
issue of Polish territorial integrity, in contrast to the actual issue of 
maintaining their political and military control of the continent. 
The French and British governments would intend a Europe-wide 
preventive war against Germany. Hitler would open a war against 
Poland at a time and place of his choosing over the ostensible issue 
of German territorial integrity in contrast to the actual issue of 
seizing a land empire in the east. Hitler would intend a war exclu- 
sively between Germany and Poland. Neither side had a particular 
moral advantage on the ostensible issues: Hitler had a reasonable 
case for adjustments in the Polish Corridor and German Danzig but 
had degraded his case by the military occupation of the Czech part 
of the new Czechoslovakia earlier in the year; the Allies thus had a 
reasonable case to intervene politically because of Hitler’s earlier 
action. But in the actual issues embraced by the opposing sides, we 
see two wars beginning between September 1 and 3. 

The Allies would commit themselves to a toughly conceived 
preventive war against an enemy hopelessly misconceived as the 
same old Germans disturbing the peace of Europe. Hitler, however, 
was not a same old German, and when unwittingly forced into a war 
with Britain and France in early September, would commit himself 
to one of breathtaking proportion. The Allies could not conceptu- 
alize that they were dealing with a man who had recently saved the 
Germans from the Marxists internally in 1933. And they could not 
know that this savior, unknown to them, had made the transition to 
world-historical personality by the turn of 1939. The earnest ado- 
lescent of Linz and 1908 Vienna described by Kubizek had arrived 
as the most intense personality of the ages. The can’t-you-see, 
matchless personality defined by Hess, the proto-messiah agonized 
over by Eckart in Berlin and Munich, the golden-voiced, silver- 
tongued speaker rapturously described by Hanfstaengl, the some- 
sort-of-magnetic-gift witnessed and recorded by Prince Otto von 
Habsburg, the thousand-year genius granted by Franz Pfeffer von 



Salomon, the stunning voice of guttural thunder artfully analyzed 
by Konrad Heiden: “Inside this unlikely creature there resided a 
miracle.” All these guises must be factored in to measure the man in 
1939 . This unwilling foe of the British and the French — brother 
nations of highest culture — was characterized by infinite seriousness 
and an unmatched artistic will to create the stone monuments mer- 
ited by an immortal Reich. This vjahnfriedische-hohengnn-llitl&T 
was also armed with the unmatched political will to subdue the 
eastern Slavs and the iron logic to pull together the whole business 
as a cataclysmic struggle between the German nation and the forces 
of Jewish Marxist internationalism. 

This above historical handful — this Adolf Hitler — would enter 
1939 with the military occupation of the Czech part of Czechoslo- 
vakia in a bitterly cold March. With this entry, Hitler would face the 
immense consequences of no longer having a moral advantage over 
his diplomatic adversaries. Although Hitler linked the occupation of 
Bohemia and Moravia with support for a powerful Slovakian inde- 
pendence movement, he had nevertheless set aside the Munich 
Agreement. Within three weeks, a severely piqued Chamberlain 
would unilaterally guarantee the territorial integrity of Poland, the 
Polish government accept, and the French government accede. If 
Hitler blundered in 1939, it was probably at this moment. But he was 
already on the move toward smashing the Polish state and could not 
accept the presence of a Czech war front in any realistic calculation 
of success. If Chamberlain blundered in 1939, it would have been to 
have continued to trifle with German power, particularly in combi- 
nation with the moral strength of Hitler’s Polish challenge to the 
Paris Peace Conference and notwithstanding his morally indefen- 
sible occupation of Bohemia and Moravia. But Chamberlain con- 
tinued to be divorced from the lingering inequities of Paris. And 
with breathtaking ruthlessness in the pursuit of British interests, he 
would guarantee Poland’s territorial integrity without the remotest 
military capability to do so, even allied with France. 

On the other hand, later, between June and August, the British, 



French, and Soviet governments would conduct negotiations for a 
diplomatic front with the realistic potential to constrain Germany. 
At the beginning of August, Hitler faced the impossible prospect of 
a war simultaneously with Poland, Britain, France, and Soviet Russia 
if he were to order an advance to smash the Polish state. Chamber- 
lain and Daladier faced the unenviable prospect of a war with Ger- 
many and the towering, although apparently invisible, moral 
dilemma of being incapable of securing Poland. Jozef Beck, the 
intrepid but overconfident Polish foreign minister, proceeded with 
reckless disregard for the realities of revived German power, Soviet 
Russian claim to territory lying to its west, and Anglo-French dis- 
tance and lack of dedication to the immediate defense of Poland. 
And in early August, to compound Hitler’s difficulties, Josef Stalin 
would allow the conduct of dilatory but dangerous negotiations with 
the British and French governments for some agreement over the 
Polish situation. Earlier in 1939, however, he had replaced the peren- 
nial Western-oriented foreign minister Maksim Litvinov with a new 
man, Vyacheslav Molotov, capable of conducting a supremely prag- 
matic foreign policy to include serious negotiations with Hitler’s for- 
eign minister. 

By mid-August all things were in place for change on the conti- 
nent of Europe. The British and French were prepared to fight a pre- 
ventive war over the Polish issue under conditions that they had come 
to assume would be more auspicious than at any future time. The 
Polish government, with infinite disregard for reality, was not neces- 
sarily prepared for war but entirely prepared to fight one. During the 
first half of the month the Italian government in the Ciano negotia- 
tions had given Hitler additional freedom of maneuver by agreeing 
to fight if Germany went to war. Within this picture of danger and 
opportunity Hitler stood immobilized by the forbidding potential of 
a four-front war — naval fronts in the North Sea and Baltic and land 
fronts with France and a Poland reinforced, in some way or other, by 
Soviet Russia. But on August 19 in Moscow, Molotov would hand to 
the German negotiator, Ambassador Count Friedrich Werner von der 



Schulenburg, a draft of a nonaggression pact to go along with a com- 
pleted and about-to-be signed economic agreement. The economic 
agreement would be signed on August 20, and the diplomatic coup 
for the ages — the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact — three days 
later. For Hitler, the timing of this supreme coup was exquisite. It 
allowed for an autumn ground campaign against Poland under 
weather conditions favorable for German ground and air forces on 
the offensive. And at the highest level of political-military calcula- 
tion, Hitler had come to believe that any further delay in the near- 
inevitable war in the west must result in Britain and France growing 
relatively stronger than Germany. 

During 1939, Hitler would still have preferred a vast strategic 
accommodation with Britain specifically to recognize its overseas 
empire and parallel control of the ocean seas. In return, he would 
have required a free hand in the east. The position of France in such 
a situation illuminates Hitler particularly well. No evidence exists in 
terms of specific word or general argument on Hitler’s part to show 
that he “hated” the French or France. With a kind of calm detach- 
ment, Hitler, at worst, would manage to say that in any diplomatic 
crisis in Europe, France would always be ranged with Germany’s 
enemies. He would acknowledge the similar superiorities of the 
French, British, and German peoples in culture and civilization, and 
this acknowledgement would make the French proof against 
boundary change or colonization in the event of German victory in 
the east. But no Frenchman knew this, and every French government 
had to assume through its own hate and prudence that Hitler’s Ger- 
many would turn on France at first opportunity and “destroy” it. 
Hitler, therefore, faced the almost insufferable dilemma and histor- 
ical inanity of having to subdue a France that should not have been 
an enemy of Germany according to his own National Socialist 
Weltanschauung. We could generalize colorfully that Hitler would 
pass by us in late 1939 as the “ wahnfriedische-Loh&ngnri “ on his way 
to save the Germans from Soviet Russia, the great danger and oppor- 
tunity lying to the east. Unlike Lohengrin, however he would face 



equally great danger from the culturally allied peoples lying to the 
west who were — momentarily, at least — more concerned about 
being saved from Germans than being overrun by Russians. 

Chapter I 


H itler faced a nightmarish strategic-geographic situation on 
September 3, 1939, in which he had cast Germany into a war 
on two land fronts in Europe. At the highest level of consideration, he 
had hoped to have a free hand from the west for a short campaign against 
Poland. He hoped to have the same free hand for a great, final advance 
into western Soviet Russia. But after his masterstroke of the nonaggres- 
sion pact with the Soviets, the British government nonetheless opted for 
a preventive war against Germany and he found himself locked into his 
ultimate nightmare: not only an unintended war against Britain, but also 
one on two fronts. The Poles would surrender Warsaw on September 27, 
signaling the end of the campaign in fewer than a month. The quick 
German victory would support a view that the Polish campaign has little 
interest either militarily or politically because of the mismatch between 
the opposing armed forces. But on September 3, no one knew of the 
future German victory of September 27, and the strategic situation for 
Germany was hardly a mismatch with Britain, France, and Poland 
opposed to it. Alfred Jodi, as chief Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) 
operations staff at war’s outbreak, would remark that Germany faced 
potential immediate defeat in the war in the event that the 110 divi- 
sions of the French Army moved against the twenty-five German 
divisions in the west. The essence of the matter for Hitler on Sep- 
tember 3 was that the Wehrmacht had to not just defeat the Poles but 
defeat them immediately. Neither Hitler nor the army, with the bag- 
gage of World War I still on both of their backs, could have antici- 



pated a campaign of fewer than several months with the attendant 
danger of a French advance and Soviet change in outlook. The cam- 
paign was never a mismatch from the viewpoint of the speed with 
which it had to be executed, and it cost the Germans significant casu- 
alties. Hitler had no serious impact as concerns the military opera- 
tions and only in October, after the Polish Campaign, did he begin to 
function as the effective commander of the Wehrmacht at war. 

Having been forced by chance into the wrong war, although 
probably at the right time, Hitler had to adjust to a new reality of 
Germany endangered in its very survival. He had practically no time 
to make this adjustment, yet by October 9 he had issued a directive 
for an attack in the west. In accordance with this directive, Oberkom- 
mando des Heeres (OKH or high command of the army) issued the 
operation order of October 19 for such an advance scheduled for 
November 12. OKH had little confidence in the success of the attack 
but was unable to deter Hitler in a last-ditch confrontation a week 
before what it considered to be an advance into planned disaster. For 
purposes of comprehending Hitler, we have a unique opportunity at 
the beginning of his conduct of World War II to understand his 
characteristic style and the concept that dominated his strategy. 

With astonishing quickness, Hitler would direct the field armies 
to the west for an immediate attack against France and Belgium. 
Scheduled for November 12 and then rescheduled for twelve days 
later, the attack flew in the face of the most fundamental considera- 
tion for offensive military operations — season and associated day- 
to-day weather. If the attack had taken place, it would almost cer- 
tainly have failed to achieve any decisive result because the German 
operational trumps, namely, their excellent and numerous air force 
and moderate-sized but tactically superior motorized ground forces, 
would have been negated. Hitler would persist nonetheless and give 
as high level strategic rationale for an immediate offensive that every 
day that passed the allies would grow relatively stronger than Ger- 
many. The great biographers and historians have recognized this 
immoderate urge to attack and linked it with seamless determination 



on Hitler’s part to knock France out of the war in a blitz campaign. 
The operational plan controversy over which plan to employ for an 
attack in the west fails to support the conventional wisdom’s view of 
Hitler’s intent for the French campaign and, necessarily, the 
remainder of the war. Genemlmajor Erich von Manstein, at the time 
chief of staff of Army Group A, one of only two army groups 
assembled for offensive operations in the west, published the most 
authoritative account of the whole business shortly after the war’s 
end. In his account, he presented a crushing indictment of the Hitler 
and OKH attack order of October 19, 1939, which continued in 
effect through February 20, 1940. In his objections to the order, he 
noted that “the 1939 operation plan . . . contained no clear-cut inten- 
tion of fighting the campaign to a victorious conclusion. Its object 
was, quite clearly, partial victory (defeat of the Allied forces in 
northern Belgium) and territorial gains (possession of the channel 
coast as a basis for future operations).” 1 In support of this view that 
Hitler had no intention to launch a blitzkrieg to conquer France, 
Manstein quoted the general intention of the entire attack in the 
west as: “To defeat the largest possible elements of the French and 
Allied Armies and simultaneously to gain as much territory as pos- 
sible in Holland, Belgium, and Northern France as a basis for suc- 
cessful air and sea operations against Britain and as a broad protec- 
tive zone for the Ruhr.” 2 Based on such evidence, it must be held that 
Hitler had no intention of conquering France in a single, swift blow. 
General der Artillerie Franz Haider, chief of staff at OKH, would note 
in his war diary Hitler’s concern over the situation in the west, which 
could be paraphrased: one dark night during the autumn fogs, the 
Allies will move into Belgium and take it without firing a shot. 3 The 
commander of Army Group B, Genemloberst Fedor von Bock, would 
note in his diary: “Once again [Hitler] justified the compelling 
necessity to attack soon with the need for greater security for the 
Ruhr region, and with the necessity for better air and U-boat bases.” 4 
For whatever the reasons, Hitler was determined from late Sep- 
tember 1939 through February 20, 1940, to launch the main concen- 



tration of the German Army into an attack in the west with indeci- 
sive objective. 

When Hitler personally put in effect the new and final plan of 
February 20 — the so-called Manstein Plan — the army would 
receive a directive with the decisive objective to destroy the French 
army and occupy France. Manstein would envision nothing less. 
Quite amazingly, however, and independently of Manstein, Hitler 
had come to virtually identical conclusions about the scheme of 
maneuver for the great opening advance. Two powerful minds would 
therefore agree over the opening moves. It does not necessarily 
follow, however, that they both either intended or expected a blitz 
victory over France with the unfolding of those identical opening 
moves. Manstein intended such a victory, but compelling evidence 
exists to show that Hitler intended a more certain seizure of Bel- 
gium and had little or no expectations of the conquest of France. 
Months before the adoption of the Manstein Plan, Hitler had 
pressed for an immediate advance for late October or early 
November against the west. Hitler could not have made more clear 
its purpose and dimensions. 

Bock, for example, would be directed along with others to meet 
with Hitler on October 25 and noted the following conclusive 

The Fuehrer . . . justified the need for the attack. If the enemy 
arrives at the Belgian-German border first, the situation for us — 
he said — would be untenable, for the threat to the Rhine industrial 
region . . . would paralyze the production potential in the heart of 
our armament industry. We cannot wait! Our situation is favorable, 
the situation over there is not. But in time the others will become 
stronger than we can. As well there is the risk that one fine day we 
will wake up to the news that the enemy is standing at the 
Belgian-German border! 5 

Hitler at that moment saw the advance in the west as an imme- 
diate necessity to seize Belgium and was willing to risk an attack by 



the entire German army for so indecisive an objective. Hitler would 
later conceptualize an advance through the Ardennes virtually iden- 
tical to that of Manstein, but he would intend it to seize Belgium 
more quickly and surely. 

Two other pieces of evidence cement this view of Hitler as 
locked into a mentality of siege lines drawn around Germany by 
Britain and France. As the advance of May 10, 1940, opened 
according to the Manstein Plan of maneuver, Hitler would order 
halts to the attack of the main armored force advancing west along 
the French-Belgian border toward the channel. Early on May 17, 
General der Panzertruppen Heinz Guderian, leading the main armored 
spearhead of the entire advance in the west, would be ordered to halt 
only seventy miles from Sedan and less than halfway to the channel. 
If Hitler had enforced his own order more successfully, the result 
would have been incalculable and would have included the possi- 
bility of the Allies not being forced even out of Belgium. In the 
second, better-known order, Hitler would halt Guderian’s armor 
near Dunkirk. Notwithstanding this order, however, Hitler would at 
least achieve the seizure of Belgium three days later. 

These orders, the first one still virtually unknown to the great 
biographers, reveal Hitler as a tactically nervous new Feldherr con- 
cerned largely about the assured conquest of Belgium but hardly 
that of France. In the first order, Hitler would fear that French forces 
moving up from the south would interfere with the assured fall of 
Belgium. He was not concerned that the German “armored wedge” 
would get to the channel and seal the fate of France. Haider would 
annotate on May 17: “An unpleasant day. The Fuehrer is terribly 
nervous. Frightened by his own success, he is afraid to take any 
chance and so would pull in the reins on us.” 6 And on the following 
day, Hitler would continue to act in a way not understandable to 
Haider: “The Fuehrer unaccountably keeps worrying about the 
south flank [the armored wedge and trailing infantry out of Sedan]. 
He rages and screams that we are on the best way to ruin the whole 
campaign and that we are leading up to a defeat. He won’t have any 


part of continuing the operation in westward direction [to achieve 
the conquest of France] . . . and still clings to the plan of a north- 
western drive [to achieve the assured conquest of Belgium].” 7 ft is 
difficult to escape the feeling that Hitler saw the French campaign as 
actually a Belgian exercise in the improvement of the siege lines 
drawn around Germany in the west. 

In spite of his unanticipated blitz success in May, Hitler would 
continue to intervene in operations in June, now exclusively in 
France. He would show the same concern about German war pro- 
duction and the siege lines of early June around Germany. In the 
face of the great advance south, which began on June 5 and showed 
OKH pursuing the quick military defeat of France, Hitler would 
give the following version of the goals of the rest of the campaign. 
Haider would paraphrase Hitler as arguing that the June campaign 
was calculated to deny the enemy possession of his iron ore 
resources in Lorraine. Hitler argued, “With them gone, it’s all over 
with his armament industry.” 8 Here we see him within a fluid cam- 
paign in June, and the final part of the great blitz envisioned by 
Manstein arguing for the seizure of Lorraine rather than the 
destruction of the French army. 

* * 


From the beginning of the October 1939 planning for the campaign 
in the west, the commander of the German navy, Admiral Erich 
Raeder, had emphasized the concept of a counter siege of Britain 
that would require naval bases along the Belgian and northwestern 
French coasts and Norway. As planning for an attack in the west pro- 
ceeded in 1939 and actual alerts for attack were issued, Raeder 
warned that in the event of a German move into the Lowlands, the 
British might seize a base in Norway. Independently of Raeder, 
Vidkun Quisling, an influential nationalist politician in Norway, 
would visit Hitler on several occasions in 1939 and warn him that the 
Norwegian government had agreed not to oppose a British invasion 



if Norway became involved in hostilities with Germany. Most sig- 
nificantly in all of this was that, “as long as the Lorraine mines stayed 
in French hands, the German war machine was absolutely depen- 
dent on Swedish iron ore. During the warmer months the ore could 
be shipped . . . through the Baltic; but in winter when ice closed the 
Baltic ports, the ore had to be loaded at Narvik on the Norwegian 
Atlantic coast.” 9 The ore boats would then travel one thousand miles 
in Norwegian territorial waters and through a short, loose British 
naval blockade to Germany. In the event of the British seizure of 
Norway, Hitler would face the reality of a terminal tightening of the 
siege lines around Germany, exemplified by the loss of the Swedish 
iron ore. 

On December 14, Hitler instructed OKW to investigate how the 
German armed forces could take Norway and stipulated strict 
secrecy. The secrecy was so tight that Haider would note in his diary 
on February 21, 1940, that “not a single word has passed between the 
Fuehrer and ObdH \Generaloberst Walther von Brauchitsch]; this 
must be put on record for the history of the war.” 10 Hitler could be 
generalized as taking personal responsibility for this daring, suc- 
cessful campaign and put army Genemlleutnant Nikolaus von Falken- 
horst in charge of planning under control of himself and OKW The 
situation was complicated by the Soviet attack on Finland in late 
November 1939. The danger emerged that the British and French 
governments would seize Narvik in order to come to the assistance 
of the Finns by way of that port and northern Sweden. The signing 
of a peace treaty between Russia and Finland on March 12 would 
avert this menace for Germany and remove, temporarily, the oppor- 
tunity for the British and French governments to act. But after 
March 21, the new French premier, Paul Reynaud, committed 
France to more aggressive prosecution of the war, and the Allied 
Supreme War Council put together two operations that were 
intended to cut off Germany from the Swedish iron ore. Operation 
Wilfred involved the laying of minefields in the Norwegian territo- 
rial waters, known as the Leads, to interdict the German ore boats. 



Allied Plan R4 involved an Anglo-French amphibious operation 
against Norway with the armed seizure of Bergen, Trondheim, and 
Narvik and the conquest of about half the country. 

Hitler, using OKW, would put together Operation Weseruebung 
and would forestall so dangerous an Allied adventure. Hitler put 
together a theater-level operation of boldness and daring- 
unmatched in World War II. He would launch an amphibious oper- 
ation against an enemy who had complete control of the sea and was 
prepared for the contingency of German counter- action against 
Allied violation of Norwegian territory. On April 1, Hitler con- 
ducted a review of Weseruebung and commented that the days until 
the occupation of Norway was complete would impose on him the 
greatest nervous strain of his life. The Fuehrer Directive of March 
1 for the Norwegian invasion had promptly brought a wave of 
protests from the army and Luftwaffe, and Hitler would have had 
substantial support only from the navy. In so lonely a situation, 
Hitler would later show tactical jitters during the campaign. His 
strategic nerves, however, would hold until the time that success in 
the west assured similar in Norway. 

Hitler would order Weseruebungto begin at 0515 on April 9, 1940, 
and encounter the most bizarre opening of any campaign in World 
War II. At virtually the same time, an Allied mine-laying force oper- 
ating under Operation Wilfred had begun to lay mines in two fields 
in Norwegian waters between Bergen and more northerly Trond- 
heim on the morning of April 8. The British mine-laying force 
accordingly found itself in and among German warships laden with 
troops already on the move and tasked to land and seize Trondheim 
and Narvik on the morning of April 9. The Allies had also concen- 
trated army units and shipping for landings in Norway in the event 
that the Germans showed that they intended to land there as a coun- 
teraction to the mine laying. Accordingly, it is difficult to determine 
whether the Allies or the Germans were the aggressors in Norway in 
April 1940. The generalization can probably be made that both were 
aggressors, and the Germans turned out to be the more effective ones. 



From the German side, Hitler was the driving force in bringing 
the campaign into existence even though he had initially been luke- 
warm to Raeder’s cautious 1939 entreaties. But when he faced the 
danger of an Allied move through northern Norway to aid the Finns 
at the turn of 1940 — and the associated loss of the Swedish iron ore 
imports — Hitler recognized the strategic necessity to seize Norway 
before the Allies. Although Hitler would need the indispensable 
support of the Kriegsmarine, he would be the bold designer and ner- 
vous executor of the campaign. He would employ OKW to put 
together the pieces of the operation. He would not inform OKH and 
its included army general staff and instead present it with a fait 
accompli in late February. Similar to his pacing of the French cam- 
paign to the assured seizure of Belgium and resultant security for 
the Ruhr, he would pace the Norwegian campaign to the seizure of 
Narvik and the resultant security of the high-grade Swedish ore 
fields lying immediately to the southeast. Perhaps the surest indi- 
cator of Hitler’s motive in creating and launching Weseruebung would 
be the British motive in creating and launching its own Norwegian 
operation. The British in particular would recognize Germany’s 
weakness in terms of strategic natural resources and what amounted 
to tight siege lines drawn around Germany, especially in the west 
and Scandinavia. Late in November 1939, for example, the British 
Ministry of Economic Warfare expressed the view that, cut off from 
the Swedish ore supply, Germany could not continue the war for 
more than twelve months. 11 And earlier in September, the first lord 
of the admiralty had submitted a plan to force the straits into the 
Baltic to stop the summer Swedish ore traffic. The British operations 
in April 1 940 can be seen almost exclusively intended to block that 
traffic and cause the Germans acute if not fatal embarrassment. It 
follows almost axiomatically that Hitler intended an entire cam- 
paign of World War II to safeguard an economic resource and, in 
effect, to improve the encircling lines set around Germany. 

As concerns Hitler’s capabilities and style as highest level mili- 
tary commander, he presents strategic boldness and daring difficult 



to exaggerate. Later in the war and far away in the Pacific, the most 
powerful naval forces of the war — the US Pacific Fleet— would 
spend months, in some cases from 1943 onward, in air attack, surface 
naval engagement, and shore bombardment intended to achieve 
aerial and surface supremacy around small island targets prior to 
amphibious landings. Hitler would launch his campaign into the 
teeth of the British navy in its own front yard of the North and Nor- 
wegian Seas, all with modest air superiority compared with the doc- 
trinal air supremacy of the Americans in the Pacific. The Allies 
would be strong enough between April 14 and 19 to counter-land 
eight thousand troops north and south of Trondheim. Hitler’s 
strategic boldness would stand out in the mismatch among forces in 
the campaign to the disadvantage of Germany. Raeder would pre- 
sent the almost hopeless German situation during the following 
crisis. The Allied threat to Trondheim threw Hitler into a tactical 
panic that led him, on April 22, to propose using the liners Bremen 
and Europa to transfer an entire division to Trondheim. Raeder 
would protest and put the whole campaign within its daring per- 
spective by noting that “the entire fleet would be needed to escort 
the ships and that the probable outcome would be the loss of both 
transports and the [entire German] fleet.” 12 The Germans would be 
forced to transport the first waves of the earlier successful landing in 
fast warships that boldly took advantage of varying degrees of sur- 
prise to disembark troops over Norwegian port facilities. 

The German forces would ultimately be rewarded with com- 
plete success. The army would seize and hold Narvik, and the Luft- 
waffe would successfully resupply the ground forces at several cru- 
cial junctures and keep the British Fleet at bay. The navy, in spite of 
its weakness, delivered troops and supplies in the warship groups 
and the following sea transport echelons with initially heavy but 
eventually manageable losses. Similar to the case in the west, Hitler 
would force the pace of the planning for the operation and would 
interfere severely in the details of the actual battles. We are left with 
a picture of Hitler conducting the Scandinavian campaign similar to 



the way he conducted the French. This is not surprising, and it gives 
us valuable insights into how he conducted the early successful cam- 
paigns. Knowing how Hitler conducted, or at least participated in, 
the two campaigns nevertheless spins us away from why he con- 
ducted the two campaigns at all. After Hitler blundered into a war 
with the West, he had choices of strategies to pursue. By late June 
1940, both the French and the Scandinavian campaigns had been 
completed, and we should be able to discover why he conducted 
each and the common factors that connected them. 

The entrenched wisdom would claim that Hitler conducted the 
French campaign as a purposeful blitzkrieg. It would support its view 
partly by claiming that Hitler constructed the Autobahnen for military 
purposes and supported the motorization of the German army for 
anticipated future blitzkrieg-styled operations. It cannot be claimed 
seriously, however, that Hitler constructed the German super- 
highway system for military purposes. He constructed it to provide 
work for Germans beginning in early 1933. He also did it to encour- 
age the relatively small German automobile industry to expand- 
specifically to produce as many as six million “peoples’ autos” to be 
used on an improved road system. But on the other hand, no less an 
authority on blitzkrieg than Heinz Guderian recorded that, at a 
demonstration of motorized troops at Kummersdorf south of Berlin 
in early 1933, Hitler was impressed and said repeatedly: “That’s what 
i need! That’s what I want to have!” 13 It is doubtful that he antici- 
pated a partly motorized war against serious opposition in the 
coming few years. It is more likely that he sensed possibilities for the 
bloodless fairs accomplis that took place between 1936 and 1939. 
Despite the success of the motorized forces in Poland, 1 litler cannot 
be seen as having had realistic hope of defeating quickly, or other- 
wise, the higher quality and larger French and British armies 
deployed in France. 

By the end of June, Hitler faced success both in the west and 
north. Based on his two quick successes, the conventional wisdom as 
noted has seen the French campaign as a purposeful blitz intended 



to conquer France, and the Norwegian campaign as a parallel naval 
blitz intended to seize Norway. But additional evidence exists to 
show that Hitler did not intend a blitz to overwhelm France. In early 
March 1940, Hitler attended a conference in the Reichskanzlei in 
which the higher commanders in Army Group A presented their 
tasks and how they intended to carry them out. The army group, 
with its more than forty divisions, had become under the Manstein 
Plan the point of major effort in the offensive. Within the army 
group, the main point of effort lay with Panzer Group Kleist and 
ultimately its Sixteenth Panzer Corps under Guderian. Manstein’s 
planned victory over France would be won or lost according to Gud- 
erian’s success. Hitler’s planned seizure of Belgium would be carried 
or miscarried according to the same success. 

Guderian was last to speak and described his task as, after various 
adventures in the Ardennes, to cross the Meuse River on the fifth day. 
Notably, this conference about the course of the entire campaign, 
either Manstein’s or Hitler’s, focused almost exclusively on crossing 
the Meuse. From the level of the big picture, Hitler asked, ‘“And then 
what are you going to do?’ He was the first person to ask this vital 
question.” 14 Guderian replied that he intended to continue his drive 
westward, and Hitler would have to decide whether his objective 
would be Paris or Amiens. Guderian opined that the correct course 
would be to drive past Amiens to the channel. Hitler nodded in assent. 
At this point, one of three army commanders comprising Army 
Group A exclaimed, “I don’t think you’ll cross the river in the first 
place!” This statement in front of Hitler suggests that many in the 
army viewed a lightning conquest of France as hopelessly optimistic. 
The concern over the crossing of the Meuse and lack of attention 
about what to do afterward suggests that Hitler’s fundamental concern 
about the seizure of Belgium and associated channel ports was real- 
istic and in touch with the art of the possible prior to the attack. A 
problem in history, or perhaps the problem, was that the end result 
might have actually intruded on reality. Because Hitler won a blitz 
victory over France does not necessarily mean that he intended such. 



Hitler’s Luftwaffe adjutant, Hauptmann Nicolaus von Below, was 
in close proximity to Hitler from 1937 through 1945 — close enough 
to note in late November 1939 as evidence of that closeness: “After 
the evening meal Hitler took me into the large situation room, 
where we walked the length of the room together. He wanted to 
speak his thoughts aloud in order to detect errors in his planning.” 15 
This walk took place on the same day of Hitler’s meeting with the 
highest level commanders of the three armed forces and shows 
Hitler using the taciturn and laconic Below as a trusted sounding 
board for his own ideas. Below could recall Hitler remarking earlier 
in the day that the outcome of the war would depend on who held 
the Ruhr. 16 He would also recall Hitler remarking that it was impor- 
tant to have better bases from which to strike England from the air. 
In October and November, Hitler would also spend a great deal of 
time contemplating, in the OKW situation room, a relief map of the 
territory in Belgium and France over which the attack would take 
place. While tactically juggling two mobile divisions, he recognized 
the strategic advantages of mossing the bulk of the German armor 
for a daring, more decisive drive west through Sedan. As noted pre- 
viously, the plans of advance of Manstein and Hitler would coincide, 
but the former intended the quick defeat of France while the latter 
intended adequate protection of the Ruhr. But success of the 
Manstein Plan would automatically result in the defeat of France 
and protection of the strategic resource. Hitler nevertheless inces- 
santly proclaimed protection for the Ruhr as his intent for the 
advance in the west. This extraordinary half-measure paves the way 
to a more adequate interpretation of Hitler’s conduct of the war on 
the offensive. The apparent half-measure of the Ruhr can be inter- 
preted as a strategy to establish and maintain fortress lines around 
Germany adequate for eventual victory over the West. 

Hitler would operate under the same rationale in the later 
Balkan and Russian Campaigns. Reality is obscured by his unwitting 
success in France and the presence of a blitz army operating along- 
side of a siege Fuehrer. Reality is obscured farther by Hitler’s unpar- 



alleled boldness in launching himself into full-fledged campaigns to 
secure unexciting territorial targets in order to protect even less 
exciting economic areas. Obscured or otherwise, this reality gives us 
a superior interpretation of Hitler’s conduct of the winning phase of 
the war. His conceptualization of indispensable economic areas and 
the strategic imperative to hold them gives us a half-century missing 
interpretation of his inflexible conduct of the losing phase of the 
war. The revised interpretation reveals Hitler as having the same 
strategic imperatives at the beginning of the war as at its ending. The 
imperatives: seizing boldly and holding inflexibly the fortress lines 
necessary for German survival. 

In July 1940, after the victories in France and Norway, Hitler 
faced the question of what to do next in the war. His military oper- 
ations had exceeded expectations, having led to the defeat of one 
major power and caused another “to beat a retreat to his island fast- 
ness.” 17 Faced with icy indifference to his peace offer to Britain, 
Hitler seemingly would be forced to thrash about to develop a 
revised grand strategy. The air battles over southern England and 
the channel that began in July and lasted until October had no clear 
or decisive military objective. As such, the air battles seem to show 
Hitler muddling. But for Hitler the bombing raids, particularly on 
London, were supported by political and psychological rationale and 
were intended to ease Britain into a political settlement. As the air 
battles developed over Britain in July, Hitler would conceive the 
plan to tackle Britain by invasion but would not make up his mind to 
execute his own plan. The plan, Operation Sealion, was bound to 
involve big risks and was broached by Hitler too late to take advan- 
tage of the last late-summer weather of August to make a realistic 
amphibious operation in southeastern England. The “Battle” of 
Britain would drag on to about October 3 1 and end with heavy losses 
on both sides: somewhat surprisingly, 1,172 British Hurricanes, Spit- 
fires, Blenheims, and Defiants of the Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter 
Command compared with significantly fewer, 845 German BF 
109Es and BF llOCs. The Germans had, of course, heavy additional 



losses in bombers, but the whole business would be summarized by 
a British authority as: “Neither side had been defeated, but both 
sides were battered and weary .” 18 

From July through October, Hitler wrestled with the possibilities 
of either easing or knocking Britain out of the war. He could not 
have thought that he could end the war with long range bombard- 
ment of any enemy of the quality of the British. And as concerns an 
invasion of the island, he was plainly unwilling to accept the defining 
consequences of a defeat: “It was clear even then that Hitler did not 
have his heart in the operation. At all levels the preparations lacked 
that driving force from the top which was usually so apparent .” 19 
And driving force notwithstanding, Hitler faced an intact RAF and 
Royal Navy combined with the onset of autumn weather that alone 
could have prevented a landing. A compromise plan for invasion 
would only be put together by late August, forcing the landing itself 
into dreaded autumn. The plan, however, gave “the Army a landing 
force and a landing area it believed inadequate, and the Navy a 
responsibility for transport which it feared would be too great .” 20 
The Luftwaffe gave little consideration to the matter while indi- 
rectly supporting it with its own private war with the RAF . 21 

By this time in the war, after the Battle of France, Hitler had 
ceased to consult the commanders-in-chief of the three armed 
forces on matters of grand strategy and ultimately made decisions 
based on his inspirations alone. Hitler applied superior instincts, 
brooded over operational maps, and used strategic-geographic 
analysis to get at the possibilities for German victory in the war. 
These instincts and his characteristic intense study of problems 
would have led him to the more realistic option to ease Britain out 
of the war by aerial and naval warfare. 

The conventional wisdom has taken the view that after the con- 
quest of France, Hitler saw victory in World War II as equivalent to 
the defeat of Britain. The defeat could be seen as a mutually agreed, 
negotiated settlement as forced on Britain by German success in an 
aerial bombing campaign or outright invasion and conquest. Hitler 



had accomplished none of these by the time of the cancellation of 
Sealion on September 17, 1940. The great biographers accordingly 
have characterized Hitler’s strategy as one to force Britain out of the 
war somehow, in spite of the above. But earlier, in July, at the begin- 
ning of the aerial battles over Britain and the inception of Sealion, 
Hitler had also directed Generalfeldmarschall Brauchitsch to submit 
plans for a campaign against Soviet Russia. This was a lot of activity 
even for a world-historical personality. And the question for a busy 
July 1940 is: Did Hitler embark on the defeat of Britain and inci- 
dentally throw Russia into the strategic mix, or did Hitler embark on 
the world epochal saga to the east? 

The great biographers italicize Hitler’s words recorded by the 
army chief of staff Franz Haider to the effect that the surest way to 
force Britain out of the war would be to deny her the hope of salva- 
tion by a powerful alliance partner — specifically, Soviet Russia. It is 
difficult to believe, indeed impossible to believe, that Hitler used 
these words as anything other than a softening justification for the 
enormity of an attack on Soviet Russia. Since the dictation of Mein 
Kampf'm 1924 and 1925 and his second unpublished work in 1928, 
Hitler had asserted that Germany’s destiny lay in the east and would 
be realized only through force of arms. For the great biographers to 
assert that Hitler attacked Soviet Russia to knock Britain out of a war 
in the west is historically grotesque — deformed by interpretive mal- 
nutrition. We are asked to believe that Hitler would plan and execute 
an attack that, if victorious, would achieve final German destiny, but 
that he would do so with the lesser included intent to knock Britain 
out of the half- war of 1940 and 1941. We see the great biographers 
presenting an Anglocentric view of the course of the war in those 
two years that flies in the face of German and Soviet Russian power. 

We are better served to see Hitler directing the beginning of 
planning for an attack against Soviet Russia that would achieve 
German destiny and win World War II notwithstanding virtually 
any course of action that might have been taken by Britain. July was 
a busy month in which Hitler directed the Luftwaffe against Britain, 



planned a cross-channel invasion, and prepared for an attack on 
Soviet Russia. Even in the life of a thousand-year world-historical 
personality, Hitler showed impressive activity — orders to attack the 
greatest sea power and the largest air and ground power in the world. 
Such a scene presents a biographer with the opportunity to define 
Hitler and the course of World War II. Particularly with the army, 
Hitler had to be convincing in his rationale for so extreme a situa- 
tion. Even for the man who had begun to make the great strategic 
decisions for Germany entirely alone, his decisions had to be carried 
out by others, particularly at the higher levels, who had to be con- 
vinced of the rationale, necessity, and desirability of his directives. 
But for Hitler, his premier strength both as messiah and as world- 
historical personality was his capability to be convincing. When 
Hitler was only nineteen years old, his friend August Kubizek could 
record in amazement Elitler’s capability to convince his father to 
allow his son to study at the Vienna music academy rather than con- 
tinue to apprentice as a furniture upholsterer. And Kubizek would 
put Hitler together at the same age as a bundle of the two following 
characteristics: essentially, intensity without equal and the ability to 
convince. Given the active circumstances of July, a serious Hitler 
would require a convincing rationale to embark almost immediately 
after the French campaign in an attack against an opponent with the 
dimensions of Soviet Russia. 

In his July 31 conference at the Berghof with his military leaders 
Hitler would expound on the course of the war to that date and then 
move to a momentous conclusion obviously intended to be con- 
vincing and conclusive. After stating earlier in the conference that 
“Russia was the factor on which England is relying the most,” 22 he 
would conclude according to Haider’s notes: “With Russia smashed, 

England’s last hope would be shattered Russia’s destruction must 

therefore be made a part of this struggle. Spring 1 94 1 !” 23 We do not 
know how Kubizek’s Hitler made these remarks. But we must admit 
that, notwithstanding how convincingly he made them, his rationale 
for an attack against Russia was palatable. But things are not always 



as they seem to be with Hitler. He had been dictating, writing, and 
orating since 1924 that Germany’s destiny lay in the seizure of the 
western half of European Russia. Ten days before the conference at 
a time months remote from knowledge about the outcome of poten- 
tial bombing and cross-channel amphibious operations against Eng- 
land, he had already directed Brauchitsch to plan an attack in the 
east. Although Hitler was a notable authority on the German con- 
duct of World War II his announced rationale to knock England out 
of a war in the west through the attack and defeat of Russia in the 
east must be viewed with suspicion. Although the rationale might 
have seemed to make sense, in fact, logic, circumstance, and Hitler 
himself mitigated against it as convincing for an attack against Soviet 
Russia. No logical argument can support the rationale of an armed 
invasion of the contiguously located largest state in the world with 
the largest army and most numerous tank and air forces in order to 
force England out of a half- war by sea and air. The defeat of so great 
a power would be a war-ending event and present us with the illog- 
ical spectacle of a campaign to knock a greater and more immediate 
enemy out of a war to get at a lesser and more distant one. 

Such illogic does not mean that Hitler did not embrace it but 
warns us that probably something else was afoot. Kershaw would 
argue that “having advocated since the 1920s a showdown with the 
Soviet Union to destroy Bolshevism and win 1 Lebensraum,' Hitler had 
now come back to the idea of a war against Russia for strategic rea- 
sons to force his erstwhile would-be friend Britain ... to terms.” 24 But 
Hitler had advanced against the Allies in the west determined to 
seize Belgium, safeguard the Ruhr, and conduct operations against 
Britain more effectively by sea and air. And as chance and the army 
would have it, the Belgium advance was so successful that like it or 
not for Hitler, it was able to be transformed into a following attack 
against France. As noted, however, Hitler held it up, insisting that the 
Lorraine iron ore fields be seized before further advance into the 
French strategic heartland. He stated on June 6 to Brauchitsch, for 
example, that “the present campaign is calculated to deny the enemy 



possession of his iron ore resources in Lorraine.” 25 There is an iron 
consistency in Hitler’s conduct of the war during this period: the 
Scandinavian campaign intended to secure Swedish iron ore, the 
French campaign intended to seize Belgium and thus safeguard the 
Ruhr, and the final drive into France held up by Hitler to assure the 
immediate seizure of the iron ore in Lorraine. In this unmistakable 
consistency in Hitler’s war-fighting mentality, there must be clues to 
Hitler’s behavior and intentions in July 1940. And in this consistency, 
there must also be some granite necessity in Hitler’s mind for the 
direction of the war. 

First of all, Hitler did not want the war that was declared against 
him by the British and French governments in September 1939. He 
would have preferred, above all things, to have had a free hand in the 
east and not a war in the west. A free hand would have allowed him to 
fight a war against Soviet Russia alone and with an acceptable proba- 
bility of winning. The outlandish aim of fighting so powerful an 
enemy had to have a corresponding outlandish necessity, and this 
necessity has been garbled in the accounts of the great biographers. 
Kershaw, for example, has noted that “Paradoxically having advocated 
since the 1920s a showdown with the Soviet Union to destroy Bolshe- 
vism and win ‘ Lebensraum, , Hitler had now come back to the idea of a 
war against Russia for strategic reasons ... to force . . . Britain ... to 
terms.” 26 But Hitler had already destroyed Bolshevism in Germany 
and had said in a major speech at the height of the Rhineland crisis, as 
concerns the intrusion of the Soviets into central Europe, that each 
country has a right to choose its own way to salvation. Bolshevism in 
Russia was a choice for the Russian people, but if they tried to export 
it to Germany or countries close by, they would find Hitler as their 
most deadly and fanatical enemy. And as concerns Lebensraum , Hitler 
was seriously interested in a smaller number of Germans per square 
mile in a Reich expanded into the relatively underpopulated east. But 
he was terminally interested in the raw materials and food of the 
Ukraine, the industrial plant associated with the area around 
Leningrad, and the dangerous capability of the Soviets to raid the 



Romanian oil fields from the Crimea. Hitler’s express fundamental 
intent after the seizure of power internally was to secure the strategic 
resources indispensable to project a Third Reich beyond his lifetime 
and into the unforeseeable future. Germany would not be great 
because Bolshevism had been eliminated in Russia. Germany would 
not be great because it had fewer people per square mile. Germany 
would be great because it had the contiguous strategic resources to give 
it impregnable finality as a political power. 

To argue, therefore, that in July 1940 , with the great historical 
clock of the twentieth century ticking — the brief period of time in 
which the world-historical personality had to impose himself on his- 
tory itself by the conquest of European Russia — that Hitler would 
attack Russia for purposes of knocking a badly wounded Britain out 
of a half-war in the west cannot fly. The defeat of Britain would 
remain for Hitler a consummation devoutly to be desired but not the 
consummation. In July, and wasting no time after the defeat of 
France, he would direct planning for further operations against 
Britain and the offensive of the twentieth century, the attack into 
Soviet Russia. The attack on a thousand-mile front against the 
largest army and biggest country in the world would demand, as 
noted, a satisfying rationale for the commanders of his three ser- 
vices. Hitler would present the palatable fiction that the purpose of 
the attack was to deny Britain its last hope in the half-war of 1940. 
In a reversal of Churchill’s dictum that sometimes truth has to be 
protected by a bodyguard of lies, Hitler would present a lie that had 
to be protected by a bodyguard of truth — the desirability of forcing 
Britain out of the war. And Jodi, for example, in OKW at a level 
higher than that of the commanders of the three services, would 
remark to his staff after a meeting at the Berghof on July 29 that 
Hitler was planning a preventive war against Soviet Russia. 27 Hitler 
also faced limitations to complete his eastern mission in both histor- 
ical and biological time. He was concerned that every passing day 
would see the Soviets become relatively stronger with the accompa- 
nying probability that they might become too strong for him to 



attack at all. He was concerned that his life expectancy might be too 
short to see through an attack. And he suspected that Stalin may 
already have begun to plan an attack of his own. 

In the actual events of the months following July, the aerial bat- 
tles over England would peter out to the advantage of the British and 
Hitler, who did not have his heart in an autumn cross-channel attack, 
would call it off in September. But for the entire time from July 1940 
through June 1941, the army in particular would plan, train, build up 
and concentrate for an attack in the east. Hitler would never falter in 
his determination to attack. The words of the 1920s, the actions of 
the 1930s, and the inexorable preparations for an attack in the east in 
1940 and 1941 support an interpretation that Hitler both planned 
and launched the attack in the east as an end in itself. 

It would be even more accurate to say that Hitler saw a suc- 
cessful attack against Soviet Russia as the end point for the securing 
of the Germans in history. The attack that would eventually take 
place under Operation Barbarossa would be the culmination of all 
things that Hitler had worked for and the final messianic necessity in 
his life — the unalterable securing of a place in the sun for the Ger- 
mans. To arrive at this momentous juncture, he had accomplished 
the political trek of the twentieth century from decorated foot sol- 
dier to Fuehrer. By July 1940, Hitler’s string of impossible achieve- 
ments continued with the defeat of France and the driving of Britain 
from the continent. Each complex achievement, impressive as it was 
individually, led necessarily to the next, and all to the final result of 
a strategically impregnable German community, free of Marxism 
internally and freed from the aging concept of the boundaries of 
1914 externally and with open access to the resources of Scandi- 
navia, France, and the Balkans. Hitler’s Germany stood poised to 
attain strategic immortality, or at least exceptional longevity, as a 
political state. Hitler had seen the end result of all of the above, and 
the seizure of the resources of western European Russia as his mil- 
lennial, immortal achievement. In July, he faced the momentary 
embarrassment of half the West lingering in the war, although off 



the continent. He also faced the daunting prospect of planning and 
executing the epochal “showdown” with Soviet Russia. 

Hitler had strategic freedom of maneuver in July 1940. No 
immediate circumstance forced him into any action. He could have 
proposed a serious peace settlement with Britain; he could have pur- 
sued an all-out, cross-channel invasion; he could have ignored 
Britain and pursued the final drive to the east. The only limitation 
on Hitler’s freedom of maneuver would be time. Time, master of all 
things, would force Hitler to make a decision almost immediately to 
do something. In actual circumstance, Hitler gave himself two 
options: Sealion and Barbarossa. The possibility for success for both 
depended on the time of year that they would begin, and one 
depended on being executed as quickly as possible to take advantage 
of Germany’s fleeting relative strength advantage of the last half of 

1940. When preparation time for Sealion required an autumn begin- 
ning for the amphibious operation, the risks involved caused Hitler 
to cancel it. He would have preferred to begin Barbarossa as soon as 
possible, and specifically in November, but climate conditions would 
have made such an attack impossible. With Russia growing stronger 
and Stalin bringing dangerous opportunistic pressures to bear in the 
Balkans, Barbarossa became more attractive and necessary. The 
Soviets, for example, would seize in June both Bessarabia and the 
northern Bukovina 19,300 square miles of territory up against 
Romania, Germany’s single source of oil. 

For Hitler, time was fleeting. He had probably set Barbarossa in 
stone as early as the July planning. He also unrealistically hoped to 
execute it in November. He, finally, realistically scheduled it for May 

1941. Every success of Hitler from 1919 onward led toward the 
armed seizure of the resources of western Russia that translated, in 
1941, into the success of Barbarossa. Whether successful or unsuc- 
cessful, Barbarossa would be the hinge on which the history of the 
twentieth century would turn. Such is the importance of the impos- 
sibly rare world-historical personality that, either in success or 
failure, Hitler would superimpose himself on history itself. To know 



Barbarossa is to know Hitler and the course of world history after he 
imposed it on Europe and the world. The importance of the out- 
come of the initial German drive into Soviet Russia has lain 
obscured because of the circumstances of the continued war by land 
and sea around Britain. It has lain obscured also by the circum- 
stances of gross misinterpretation of its chances of success and the 
importance of its failure. The short-lived argument by Hitler that 
Russia had to be tackled in order to knock Britain out of a half-war 
over England can be explained as a bodyguard of fiction to make 
palatable the enormity of Barbarossa. And the failure of the greatest 
offensive in the history of warfare has caused the great biographers 
to trifle with Barbarossa as foredoomed to failure. Historians and 
great biographers alike have sought out reasons for the failure, vir- 
tually every one of whom was spurious and has spun us away from 
comprehension of Hitler and the course of World War II. 

The planning for what would become Operation Barbarossa 
would go through several iterations associated mostly with OKH but 
interfered with by Hitler. He was, of course, both political and mil- 
itary master of Germany and the word interfered has to be used advis- 
edly. But Hitler could not escape .the grip of a siege mentality and 
would turn his Directive 21 of December 18, 1940, headed Operation 
Barbarossa, into an exercise for the assured seizure of the industrial 
plant associated with Leningrad and for the domination of the 
Baltic. The directive ordered the massive combined forces of Army 
Groups Center and North “to annihilate the enemy forces in the 
Baltic area,” after which “the cities of Leningrad and Kronshadt 
must be captured.” 28 Only then would offensive operations leading 
to the seizure of Moscow be continued. OKH issued its operation 
order in support of Hitler’s Directive 21 on February 3, and it was a 
monument to elegant simplicity and directness: drive the fifty-one 
full-strength divisions of Army Group Center directly at Moscow, 
force the main concentration of the field armies of the Red Army to 
defend the capital, and destroy it. The directive and the army plan 
differed fundamentally, and the divergence was never rectified. 



As preparations developed for Barbarossa, Hitler faced danger to 
the Romanian oil fields that developed into the German campaign in 
the Balkans in the spring of 1941. In a pattern virtually identical to the 
earlier campaigns in Scandinavia and France, Hitler would fly to the 
defense of the oil fields as the Russians seized the eastern Romanian 
province of Bessarabia and began to build up their troop strength 
along the new Romanian border in the second half of 1940. And if this 
were not danger enough, Mussolini’s Italy would seize Albania in 
April 1939 and give the British government the opportunity to guar- 
antee the independence of Greece. And when the Italian army 
invaded Greece at the end of October 1940, the British sent forces to 
Crete to back up the Greeks on the basis of the guarantee. Hitler 
would direct German troops into Romania in the meantime, on 
October 8, 1939, in order to protect the oil fields, and when he sent 
German troops into Bulgaria at the beginning of March 1940, the 
British embarked a substantial expeditionary force to land on the 
Greek mainland near Athens. At that time Hitler would face clear and 
present danger to the oil fields from the RAF, which had earlier 
requested permission from the Greek government to survey airfields 
in northern Greece. The stakes were enormous. Romania produced an 
impressive 9.64 million tons of oil in 1935 compared with 25.0 million 
for Soviet Russia. Since Germany and the remainder of Europe pro- 
duced almost no oil, Hitler as military strategist would face literally 
the loss of the war without control over, and adequate space around, 
the Romanian oil fields. The Germans had synthetic fuel plants pro- 
ducing gasoline from coal, but they could not sustain German wartime 
demands. And when a political coup in Yugoslavia in late March over- 
threw the previous pro-German government of the regent, Prince 
Paul, the new situation invited a stronger British presence in Greece. 
Hitler immediately triggered the Balkans campaign. 

OKH had not been given advanced warning of an offensive 
against Yugoslavia and Greece and improvised the Balkans cam- 
paign in the extraordinarily brief period from March 28 through 
April 6, 1941. On the morning of the latter date, the Luftwaffe would 



attack Belgrade and units of the Second Army advanced into the rest 
of Yugoslavia. A day later, German army units would cross the 
Greek border into a campaign that would be the perfect polit- 
ical-military storm of the war in Europe. Hitler would order an 
impossibly bold attack against two foreign states to begin in an 
impossibly short time. The brief time for planning and concentra- 
tion and the lightning success would not allow Hitler to meddle in 
either the preliminaries or execution of the campaign. The German 
army, momentarily unconstrained, would exert unequalled com- 
mand style, operational prowess, and tactical efficiencies to carry out 
a master blitz. The campaign provides invaluable insight into Hitler 
as political-military strategist in World War II. 

Significantly in the French case, and almost entirely in the Scan- 
dinavian situation, Hitler would order an entire campaign based on 
his perceived imperative to safeguard a strategic resource or seize 
one. Hitler would embrace this pattern with impressive consistency. 
The consistency demands an interpretation of Hitler as inspired to 
set barrier lines around Germany effective enough to make it termi- 
nally independent of any resources outside of them. 

The Yugoslav government under Peter II and his prime minister, 
General Dusan Simovic, would capitulate on April 1 7 after a twelve- 
day campaign, and the Greek government would join them six days 
later. The campaign in Greece would be brief but not easy and char- 
acterized by bold moves from the Germans across inhospitable and 
immobilizing terrain. The German will to advance during this period 
of the war could be awe-inspiring, and early in the Greek campaign 
SS-Sturmbannfuehrer (Major) Kurt Meyer could write: “We hid behind 
the rocks not daring to move. ...I yelled at Wawrzinek to press the 
attack but good old Emil looked at me as if he doubted my sanity — I 
too was crouching in full cover and fearing for my life. ... In my dis- 
tress 1 felt the smooth roundness of an egg grenade in my hand. 1 
yelled at the group. They all looked at me, thunderstruck when I 
showed the grenade, pulled the pin, and let it roll behind the last 
grenadier. I have never seen such a unified leap forward.” 29 The 



German political— military synthesis of Hitler and the army would 
force two potential enemy states out of the war, force a powerful sixty- 
thousand-man British Expeditionary Force off the continent and then 
off the island of Crete, and bring the entire Balkans under German 
control. Hitler’s roaring, unrealistic political boldness was matched by 
the competence of the army general staff, the verve of commanders 
in the field armies, and the elan of the troops. The combination of 
Hitler and the army translated into a likely victory in World War II. 



During late July 1940 through mid-June 1941, the Germans carried 
out uninterrupted planning and preparations for Barbarossa. Not 
even various crises associated with the peripheral war with Britain, 
for example, would interfere with Hitler’s dedication to the great 
final adventure. The challenge of pulling off a successful beginning 
to the super-advance of World War II brings into focus both Hitler 
and the course of the war — Hitler as the master personality of the 
twentieth century and Barbarossa as the master military operation. 
Hitler’s boldness in ordering such an attack was beyond almost any 
adjectival descriptor. And for so bold an attack to have any chance of 
success, it would require astounding skill and luck in achieving sur- 
prise at the opening of the campaign. It can be stated categorically 
that if the Germans could not have achieved surprise in the opening 
of the operation, it would have failed with an accompanying, much 
quicker German defeat. To achieve the required surprise, Hitler and 
the army would execute the greatest deception in the history of war- 
fare. Hitler would be able, for example, to make a virtue out of the 
necessity of the continuing war with Britain. Can we imagine a 
deception so vast as an ongoing war against a major world power? 

Hitler would require OKH to move 157 German divisions up 
against the Soviet border. Such a move would have been a feat in 
itself, but these divisions would have to be transported under condi- 
tions of darkest, unfailing secrecy. The army general staff would 



attempt to accomplish this next-to-impossible task in four waves 
beginning in early February 1941 with the issuing of the army’s 
operational order for the attack. Most of the divisions had to be 
moved from all over Europe. The divisions left behind after the 
Polish campaign, and those redeployed there after the French, had to 
be moved closer to the frontier. The army and Luftwaffe high com- 
mands (OKL) gave the impression to most of their own troops that 
their presence was designed to cover up an impending invasion of 
England. Goebbels himself was directed to write and publish an 
article in the Voelkischer Beobachter entitled “Crete as a Model” — a 
great parachute operation reinforced by troops delivered by sea — to 
reinforce the deception that an invasion of Britain was imminent. In 
mid-March, a small German bomber force of about four hundred 
aircraft continued an aerial offensive at night with increasing effi- 
ciency that suggested it was a bigger effort than it actually was. The 
bomber offensive had in fact become “merely a diversion, part of the 
grand scheme intended to convince the enemy that the main 
German effort remained in the West.” 30 

Against the background of concealment and deception similar to 
that above the OKH began the concentration (. Aufmarsch ) of the 
armies on February 4 for the attack. The general staff would have to 
move seventy-seven divisions from France and Germany to the east, 
push the forty-four divisions already in the east up against the fron- 
tier, move an additional twenty-four divisions immediately behind, 
and position further OKH reserve divisions behind all of the above. 
A formidable general staff would accomplish this task in four waves. 
The Germans emphasized secrecy to so great a degree that the 
thirty-one Panzer and motorized infantry divisions employed in the 
initial attack and deployed as far as 165 kilometers from the frontier 
in the fourth wave of the concentration were moved up only four 
days prior to the opening of hostilities. Thanks to the vast strategic 
deceptions of the war with Britain and the German-Soviet Non- 
aggression Pact and the innumerable deceptions and concealments 
of the concentration of forces, the Germans would achieve total sur- 



prise. And as B-Day (literally, “Barbarossa Day”) approached, they 
also discovered that they were going to catch the Red Army too close 
to the western borders of the Soviet Union and too heavily concen- 
trated in the Ukraine. In addition, the aircraft of the Red air force 
would be displayed in peacetime arrays on runways and parking 
areas of air installations concentrated too far to the west. 

Hitler’s intentions for the campaign stand out in the wording of 
Directive 21. They should have also stood out in the words and 
scheme of maneuver of the army operation order for the same 
advance. Hitler’s Directive 2 1 was an unfocused document having no 
objective that could be seen as resulting in victory over Soviet Russia. 
The most decisive words in the document would be to halt Army 
Group Center east of Smolensk in order to assure the seizure of the 
Baltic region and specifically the cities of Leningrad and Kronstadt. 
Hitler personally crafted this eccentric maneuver away from any deci- 
sive military objective. The objective was one of the seizure of 
strategic resources and associated territory. The objective lay in a 
direct and unmistakable line of earlier objectives: the iron ore of 
Sweden and the Norwegian port of Narvik, the German Ruhr and 
nearby Belgium, the oil fields of Romania. And later in the actual cam- 
paign on August 20, 1941 , with Army Group Center halted through 
his vacillation in contradistinction to Soviet resistance, Hitler would 
order Army Group Center’s mobile forces into an eccentric move 
south, into the Ukraine. In contrast to all of this, the army plan of Feb- 
ruary 3 aimed to win the campaign without extraneous alarms and 
excursions. And in the political act of war, the surest way to achieve 
the political objective is through military victory. 

Hitler and the army would go to war against Soviet Russia with 
divergent objectives. Hitler’s was to establish more effective siege 
lines around Germany; the army was trying to win a war. The army 
accordingly would fight a double battle, one against Hitler and the 
other against the Red Army. Hitler would win or lose World War II 
based on victory or defeat within the Barbarossa operations in the 
summer of 1941. The German army would never be stronger, and 



the armed forces of the potential new allies, Britain and Russia, 
would never be weaker in the entire war. Whereas every other cam- 
paign or big battle of the conflict in Europe led simply to yet another 
in a long and drawn-out continuation of war, Barbarossa had the sin- 
gular capability to result in victory or defeat. Any adequate inter- 
pretation of the course of the conflict in Europe depends on the out- 
come of the double battle that the German army had to fight in the 
near-perfect combat weather of the Russian summer of 1941. And 
any adequate interpretation of Hitler depends on his handling of 
the same events at the same time. His decisions early in the cam- 
paign, and no other time in his life, had the potential to lead to his 
own destruction and that of the Nazi movement and Germany. In 
the actual event, the German army would be proven to have had the 
capability to defeat the Red Army but not win the double battle 
against it and Hitler. 

The most important operational question of the projected war 
was one infrequently discussed in existing literature. It was whether 
the Red Army would disengage from the Germans along the border 
and reengage at a time and place of its own choosing deep in the 
hinterland. The question was crucial because, had the Soviets disen- 
gaged opposite Army Group Center, dropping off powerful rear 
guards to slow the Germans, they would have retired intact to the 
great natural obstacles of the Dvina and Dnieper Rivers. The escape 
of the Soviet forces opposite Army Group Center was the premier 
fear of both Hitler and the army. The escape would have been a dis- 
aster for Hitler considering his strategic-geographic compulsion to 
seize the area around Leningrad immediately at war’s beginning at 
the expense of every other move. Had Army Group Center been 
forced to engage Soviet field armies that had retired unscathed to the 
Dvina and Dnieper, it would not have been available for eccentric 
diversion either to Leningrad or to the Ukraine. For Army Group 
Center, Soviet escape would have been a strategic-level, war-losing 
disaster because the group would confront intact Soviet field armies 
behind natural defenses five hundred kilometers inside the Soviet 



Union. Bock conducted a great pre-Barbarossa war game on April 9 
and 10, 1941, in Army Group Center’s headquarters in Posen. He, 
his staff, and his senior commanders agreed that a quick victory over 
the Soviets would be chancy if they traded space for time and made 
their stand around Smolensk on the upper Dnieper. In his diary 
entry for June 22, Bock would note that the question of whether the 
Russians planned to get away was still to be answered. And Haider 
noted darkly on June 23 that all reports indicated that an enemy 
attempt to disengage must be expected. But on June 24, Haider 
would brighten and write that the Soviets were not thinking of with- 
drawal. The assistant operations officer of Army Group Center 
would note more emphatically that he was “astonished” that the 
Russians fought on the border. 

As the invasion of Russia began, the conventional wisdom has 
universally claimed as a kind of inbred truism that Hitler fore- 
doomed himself to defeat in World War II. The same wisdom has 
claimed that OKH and the German field commanders underesti- 
mated the rigors of a war in the east and the strengths of the Red 
Army and were similarly doomed to defeat. The great biographers 
and historians have particularly emphasized the contemporary 
German estimates of the length of the campaign variously from six 
to ten to seventeen weeks as hopelessly divorced from reality. The 
conventional wisdom has worked from a known end result and has 
selectively looked for and chosen evidence to support a view of gross 
underestimation of the rigors of the theater and the strengths of the 
Soviet armed forces. That same wisdom, after presenting an inter- 
pretation of hopeless optimism on the part of Hitler and the army 
in planning and preparation for Barbarossa, has naturally handled 
the military operations in a similar manner. It has interpreted the 
opening offensive as one in which the German army was gradually 
slowed by an underestimated Red Army and ground to a halt before 
the fabled “gates of Moscow” — not surprisingly, in wintertime. This 
drab picture for Hitler and the German army is not supported by the 
facts of the German preparations and the course of the German 



advance. And the resulting misrepresentations have presented the 
reading public with a flawed view of Hitler and an interpretation of 
the course of World War II that is less than inspired. 

As concerns Hitler, he had been more modest in his rearmament 
of Germany than has been generally supposed from 1933 to 1939 
and had not intended to get embroiled in a war with the West in Sep- 
tember 1939. With the fall of France in June 1940, Hitler was prob- 
ably most concerned with the military balance between Germany 
and Soviet Russia. He had set relatively low levels of war production 
adequate to win battles in 1939 and 1940 and to maintain his popu- 
larity at home. He seemed acutely aware, however, that such levels 
would not be satisfactory if the Soviets expanded their defense pro- 
duction in anticipation of a war with Germany. Hitler’s reasoning 
and timing for Barbarossa were realistic because further Soviet 
preparations for war in 1941 and much of 1942 would have been dis- 
astrous. The Soviets would have had at least twelve months to 
develop further border fortifications, expand their peacetime army, 
improve their tanks and aircraft and produce more of them, deploy 
frontier forces more effectively, and take steps to prevent a surprise 
attack. Hitler and OKH agreed early in the planning that the attack 
against the Soviet Union would not only take place in 1941 but also 
only “make sense” if it were finished quickly. But how does any army 
finish an opponent the likes of Soviet Russia quickly? 

Earlier in the war the German general staff, based on a brilliant 
plan and the operational verve of the panzer leaders, had put the 
French army as a cat in a bag to win the Battle of France. Certainly 
European Russia was different from France, and Russians from 
Frenchmen, but it could be deduced that the Red Army was no more 
than a bigger cat in a bigger bag and subject to the same principles of 
war exploited by the Germans in France in 1940. 

As concerns the rigors of the impending campaign, Hitler can be 
quoted to prove that he underestimated the Soviets, but equally deci- 
sive comments can be produced to show concern for the dangers of a 
Russian campaign. At a conference on January 9, 1941, Hitler was 



quoted in a war diary as saying, “The Russian Armed Forces are like 
a headless colossus with feet of clay but we cannot foresee with cer- 
tainty what they might become in the future. The Russians must not 
be underestimated. All available resources must therefore be used in 
the attack.” 31 The first part of the first sentence has been quoted mis- 
leadingly by writers anxious to buttress the view that the Germans 
underestimated the Russians. Quoted in its entirety, Hitler’s estimate 
is a sober, realistic analysis. When Hitler discovered in the early 
stages of planning that the Luftwaffe intended to keep a significant 
number of its antiaircraft guns in a reserve pool for home defense, he 
ordered every cannon in the pool to be turned over to the army for 
use against ground and air targets in Russia, commenting that every 
available gun would be used against the Soviets. 32 Whether Hitler 
underestimated or overestimated the Soviets, it is easy to forget that 
he made the right decision — the only decision — that would give him 
a realistic opportunity to win World War II. 

For Hitler to win, he was dependent almost completely on 
playing Germany’s trump cards — his political audacity and the 
army’s battle-winning style. The alternative was awaiting certain 
defeat by losing the initiative and encountering the overwhelming 
strength of an enemy coalition. Hitler would display correct instinct 
and reason in the choice of a surprise attack against the Soviets in 
1941, but in doing so he decided to engage a colossus and must be 
suspected of having had a clear appreciation of the risk. 

Writers dedicated to the proposition that the German army had 
little prospect of winning Barbarossa point to estimates of six to ten 
weeks to defeat the Soviets as the strongest evidence of the army’s 
underestimation of the strengths of Soviet Russia. Examining the 
estimate of six weeks, we must be struck by the actual 195 additional 
weeks the war lasted beyond German estimate. But in fresh analysis, 
if the Soviets were so much stronger than estimated, why did it take 
them 195 weeks after Barbarossa, and with the notable assistance of 
Britain, the United States, Brazil, and so on, to master the German 
assault? The answer lies in the damage inflicted by the German army 



in the first six weeks of Barbarossa. And this damage must have been 
so great that, based on it, the German army stood only a hairbreadth 
away from victory over Soviet Russia. But the writers do not relent 
and have continued to develop the interpretation that the rigors of 
the eastern war theater and the strengths of the Red Army were too 
strong for Hitler and the army to have mastered. 

As concerns the army, the acid test for gauging whether or not it 
underestimated the eastern theater is probably how it approached 
logistics. American and British writers face historical culture shock 
in this area because in World War II, Allied logistics pivoted around 
ships and oceans and trucks and roads. But for OKH and OKL alike, 
the concentration of the field armies and the air fleets centered on 
railways. The army general staff was largely responsible for the 
entire concentration and would move approximately seventeen 
thousand train loads, which totaled more than ten million tons of 
men and material. With the completion of the concentration, the 
army would base its logistics in the planned attack on a rail system 
constructed into Soviet Russia immediately behind the field armies. 
The army faced a unique challenge because its railway construction 
battalions not only had to repair Russian attempts at demolition but 
also narrow the track width of the entire system to conform with the 
rest of Europe. The railway troops could not, of course, keep up 
with the panzer spearheads, which quickly disappeared over the 
horizon. To bridge the anticipated gap, the quartermaster general of 
the army would provide Army Group Center with approximately 
forty-five thousand tons of truck freight capacity. The railway con- 
struction workers moved fast and aggressively, and the eighteen 
thousand men assigned, for example, to Army Group North were 
armed with pistols, rifles, and light machine guns. They reported 
eighty-four combat engagements with scattered Soviet troops and 
162 combat casualties to themselves. These details of the European- 
gauge railway construction into the Soviet Union support a conclu- 
sion that OKH accurately forecast the indispensable logistical 
necessities for Barbarossa. In the great battles in June, July, and 



August, the German army cannot be claimed to have been thwarted 
by insuperable logistical challenges in its drive toward Moscow. 

As the great operational advances moved east out of the edge of 
darkness on June 22, Army Groups North and South routed the 
opposing Soviet forces and allowed Bock to push forward Army 
Group Center uninhibited by lesser events. In the opening encoun- 
ters in the Bialystok-Minsk battles, Bock, Guderian (Panzer Group 
Two), and Generaloberst Hermann Hoth (Panzer Group Three) would 
form the most effective command team of the war in Europe. With 
political boldness that was unequalled, Hitler had looked with con- 
tempt on his generals’ caution in the risky advances and narrowly 
averted wars in the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. Once he 
found himself in war, he discovered that the politically timid generals 
included war fighting lions whose military daring was also 
unequalled. Under the army plan, OKH would give Bock the mission 
to destroy the massive Soviet forces opposite him by effecting an 
encirclement 350 kilometers into White Russia at its capital city of 
Minsk. Hoth, however, felt that this initial encirclement should have 
been set east of Smolensk, 700 kilometers into the Soviet Union, and 
Bock agreed after being presented with the idea: It is not clear how 
Hoth envisioned setting the lines of encirclement around this super 
pocket that could be estimated as 350 kilometers long, 120 kilometers 
wide and holding roughly 1 . 1 million Soviet troops. Voicing Hitler’s 
battle-fighting timidity, however, Haider adhered to the first pocket, 
closing at Minsk around approximately one-half million Soviet 
troops. In the actual event, Hoth’s Panzer Group Three would set the 
northern wing of the encirclement at 2200 on the evening of June 25, 
directly north of Minsk and only three days and twenty hours into 
the Russian campaign. 

In the face of this war-winning pace at the point of major effort 
in Barbarossa, Hitler would brake Army Group Center. Haider 
would note on June 25 that OKH received “a Fuehrer order” that 
betrayed concern that Army Group Center was operating too far in 
depth and comment, “The same old refrain. But that is not going to 



change anything in our plans.” 33 Hitler would continue to rein in 
Army Group Center and argue on June 30 that “mastery of the Gulf 
of Finland must be secured quickly. For only elimination of the 
Russian navy will give us free passage through the Baltic [for 
Swedish iron ore shipments]. After seizing the Russian seaports from 
the land side, we must allow three to four weeks for all enemy sub- 
marines to be . . . out of action. Four weeks means two million tons of 
iron ore.” 34 Hitler was consumed by the necessity to take Leningrad 
and the probability that Army Group Center would have to be 
halted and diverted to help in its seizure. 

By July 2, however, it had become evident that the two great 
pockets between Bialystok and Minsk had burned out and that Army 
Group North was doing well in the Baltic. Hitler would give the 
green light for the panzers of Army Group Center to advance on 
Smolensk and Moscow. Those panzer formations were moving at a 
war- winning pace in distance advanced and damage inflicted: 350 
kilometers, 332,000 prisoners, 3,188 tanks destroyed or captured, 
and 1,832 artillery pieces destroyed or captured. Soviet tank losses in 
this first battle were virtually identical to the entire tank strength of 
the Germans for Barbarossa, and all of this progress came only ten 
days into the campaign. 

A strong case can be made for German victory over the Soviet 
Union in summer 1941. Directed politically by Hitler to defeat the 
Russians in a quick military campaign, the German army, dominant 
service of the German armed forces, planned to do exactly that. It is 
difficult to believe that with the collective experience it brought to 
bear in an attack against Soviet Russia that the German army could 
have deluded itself into one that had little chance of success. Every 
German war game had confirmed that the German army could 
quickly defeat the Red Army. But every war game was based on the 
assumption of an uninterrupted drive by Army Group Center 
directly on Moscow. Such a drive continued on July 3 in the direction 
of Moscow, and on July 15, Hoth’s Seventh Panzer Division would 
interdict the unpaved Russian superhighway between Smolensk and 



Moscow a scant twenty-three days into the campaign and only three 
hundred kilometers from the capital. Violent battles would develop 
around a great pocket immediately north of Smolensk and to the east 
where fresh Soviet forces began to mass to block the way to Moscow. 
The panzer divisions were forced to fight static infantry-style battles 
until the following horse-drawn, foot-marching infantry divisions 
caught up with them about seven days after the motorized units had 
already arrived in Smolensk and Jarcevo. On July 28, Bock would 
note that the relief of the panzer divisions by infantry divisions had 
begun. Bock and virtually every officer and man in Army Group 
Center both hoped and assumed that the attack on Moscow would 
take place after the “unprecedented” success around Smolensk — 
310,000 prisoners in yet another bag. 

Hitler, however, on July 1 3, had reiterated the idea of using 
Army Group Center to help to seize Leningrad. But then, toward the 
end of July, he decided instead that the army group swing powerful 
armored forces to the southeast to take the Ukraine in a gigantic 
encirclement of a huge Soviet force. Halted according to plan along 
the east bank of the Dnieper, Bock would affect the refurbishing and 
rest of the panzer and motorized infantry divisions by August 12 for 
Guderian’s panzer command and August 14 for Hoth’s. He had also 
seized the road communications center of Roslavl south of 
Smolensk as the second major axis of advance on Moscow. On the 
morning of August 14, Army Group Center stood prepared to 
advance on the Soviet capital through the powerful but badly bat- 
tered main concentration of the Red Army. The advance that Bock 
visualized was one that would lead to the seizure of Moscow and 
attendant, concurrent destruction of the force defending it — the 
main concentration of the Red Army. Moscow had become, through 
the modernization of Russia, the hub of the Soviet rail, road, and 
telephone systems, and the single largest industrial complex in the 
new Soviet Union. Moscow had remained the psychological and 
governing center of the masses that still revered an older Russia. And 
it had become the same center for a newer Soviet Union. Moscow 



was the place at which the Soviets had to make their stand and face 
the inescapable result of total defeat in the event of its seizure by the 
Germans. This was especially true in Soviet Russia because the 
Russian peasant masses could not be expected to support an oppres- 
sive, crushing government incapable of defending its own capital. 

As concerns the outcome of the campaign and the course of 
World War II, Hoth had correctly predicted that a Russian campaign 
would have to be won as a “blitz blitzkrieg,” and Bock agreed as he 
voiced the order: “Every leader and soldier is to have hammered into 
him for this eastern campaign the foremost order: above everything 
else swiftly and ruthlessly forward!” 35 Time had run out for both 
sides in the east by August 1941. The Soviets had no space left to 
trade for time to gather themselves and survive. Had the Germans 
taken Moscow in August 1941, they would have won the campaign 
and war. Almost as surely, when Hitler delayed the final strike for 
Moscow until October, the Germans had little chance of winning. 
These generalizations lead to a fundamental reinterpretation of the 
war that, had the Germans taken Moscow in late summer, they 
would have won, and conversely their hesitation by time and 
strategic circumstance would lead to certain defeat in the entire 
war — all in the time of a single month. To make this argument, how- 
ever, it must be proved that Army Group Center had the capability 
to defeat the main concentration of the Red Army roughly handled 
but continuously reinforced between the group and Moscow. 

Adolf Hitler, however, intruded on history to sign the Fuehrer 
Directive of August 21, the single most significant political-military 
document of the twentieth century. The directive and no action taken 
by the Red Army halted Army Group Center and diverted it for two 
months south into the Ukraine. Hitler’s decision as embodied in the 
brief, fiye-paragraph document marked Germany’s irretrievable loss 
of World War II, literally, on August 22, the day that OKH received 
the directive and began to execute it. Hitler’s directive demanded a 
revised interpretation of his conduct of the war. It also demands a re- 
vised interpretation of the course of the war. Haider would fulminate, 



“I regard the situation created by the Fuehrer’s interference unen- 
durable for OKH. No other than the Fuehrer himself is to blame for 
the zigzag course caused by his successive orders, nor can the present 
OKH . . . tarnish its good name with these latest orders .” 36 This quota- 
tion by Haider illustrates the outrageousness of the situation and the 
potential for war-losing disaster as seen through the eyes of a con- 
summate general staff officer. Haider seems to be saying that the latest 
zigzag defied the army plan to drive a concentrated Army Group 
Center directly at Moscow and carried the possibility for disaster in 
the campaign. Given the circumstances, we are impelled to believe 
that the Russians experienced a second miracle of the Marne. 

As concerns a necessarily revised interpretation of Hitler as “war- 
lord,” he would conduct his war as an extraordinarily conservative set 
of campaigns, every one intended either to protect or to seize strategic 
resources necessary for German survival. There was an iron consis- 
tency in the pattern. As already noted as a repetitive theme for Hitler, 
the French campaign was a Belgian campaign to secure the Ruhr; the 
Scandinavian campaign was one to secure Swedish iron ore, the 
Balkans campaign was one to secure Romanian oil. These things have 
been discussed and parts of them are well known to the conventional 
wisdom. What is less well known is Hitler’s conduct of the penulti- 
mate Russian campaign and how it fits in so consistently with the pat- 
tern repeated above. We cannot doubt that Hitler intended a “show- 
down” with Bolshevism in the Soviet Union. And we cannot doubt 
that he intended an improvement in German living space. These two 
factors are well known and unarguable. In the actual historical event, 
however, Hitler conducted the campaign as an immense exercise in 
the seizure of the strategic space and resources of European Russia. 
Similar to the way that Hitler viewed the “French” campaign as a Bel- 
gian one, he would view the “Russian” campaign as one described as 
Balto-Ukrainian. This restrictive clause does not diminish Hitler’s 
stature as world-historical personality, because even here the diver- 
sion of part of Army Group Center into the Ukraine would result in 
the greatest battle of encirclement in history . 37 



Hitler’s words of August 21 verify the generalizations above. He 
would state that the OKH proposals for concentrated attack against 
Moscow with intention of decisive and final military victory “do not 
conform to my intentions.” 38 Remarkably for the man who said the 
campaign would make sense only if it were finished with lightning 
speed, he would voice the following war-losing intentions: “The 
principle object that must be achieved yet before the onset of winter 
is not the capture of Moscow, but rather in the South, the occupa- 
tion of the Crimea and the industrial and coal region of the Donets 
[River Basin] together with the isolation of the Russian oil regions 
in the Caucasus and, in the North the encirclement of Leningrad.” 39 
With these words, Hitler can be seen as executing Barbarossa to 
establish improved defensible siege lines around Germany to endure 
a war of indefinite length. The words also anticipate the German 
1942 summer campaign with its intention to seize the Caucasian oil 
fields based on Hitler’s intent to include them within the siege lines 
around Germany. Other words abound to show Hitler as similarly 
oriented and having no intention of securing a decisive military vic- 
tory over the Soviet Union, for example, in the Barbarossa directive 
itself: “The final objective of the operation is to erect a barrier 
against Asiatic Russia on the general line from which the Russian air 
force can no longer attack German territory.” Under the general 
intention for the campaign, Hitler gave as its final objective to erect 
a barrier along a line from which a presumably still-intact Soviet air 
force could no longer attack German territory. And if this were not 
enough to show Hitler with a barrier or barrier-line mentality, he 
would order, in a highest level armaments conference on November 
29, a shift in production toward heavier tanks and antitank weapons 
“to defend ourselves against all attackers.” 

As concerns the German army and the chances of outright mil- 
itary victory at the end of August, convincing arguments can be 
offered that it would have seized Moscow. Bock, for example, 
intended to attack on August 14 with the fateful objective to seize 
Moscow and destroy the Red Army deployed at its highest and final 



strategic level for its protection. Bock was the expert as concerns the 
striking power of his own army group and the strength of the oppo- 
sition. Bock judged that he would take Moscow. This does not prove 
that he would have been successful, and part of the conventional 
wisdom has taken the view that he had been halted by furious Soviet 
resistance along a line about sixty kilometers east of Smolensk. 
Bock, however, had not been halted by Soviet resistance but by the 
planned refurbishing of the mobile divisions followed by Hitler’s 
objection to the continuation of the drive to Moscow. Hitler would 
freeze Army Group Center in positions that it had seized so early as 
July 1 7, and Bock would not make the August attack with objective 
Moscow. We are therefore faced with consideration of the most elu- 
sive of all things — the if in history specifically to support an argu- 
ment about the winning or losing of the war by the Germans in 
August 1941. Thankfully, two enormous historical events came to 
our assistance to give overwhelming argument that the Germans 
would have been in Moscow in late summer. Such argument also 
demands a fundamental revaluation of both Hitler and the course of 
World War II. 

On August 25, Guderian would lead ‘a modest-sized panzer 
army — three panzer and three motorized infantry divisions — south 
into the Ukraine. Exactly three weeks later, his Third Panzer Divi- 
sion would link up with the Ninth Panzer Division of Army Group 
South to close an encirclement around Marshal Semyon Budenny’s 
combined armies, totaling approximately 1.1 million men. The Ger- 
mans would complete the battle by September 25 and take out of the 
pocket, by that time, 665,000 prisoners. The point for compre- 
hending the possibilities for success of an attack by Army Group 
Center against Moscow is that the excursion allowed the Soviets an 
exorbitant seventy days to mass forces from the interior, construct 
defenses, and rain incessant counter attacks on the fixed position of 
Army Group Center. In the case, for example, of the German Sev- 
enth Panzer Division, it would remain in the positions it reached on 
July 17 for seventy-six days before it would finally advance toward 



Moscow on October 2. The Soviet High Command had been able to 
mass nine field armies behind field positions thirty-five kilometers 
deep between the army group and Moscow. Army Group Center, 
allegedly battered and exhausted by Soviet counterattacks, should 
not have made any impression on the main concentration arranged 
as such, and with a command that had regained its composure. Yet 
when Seventh Panzer Division advanced north of the immense, 
unpaved highway toward Moscow, it would move 1 1 5 kilometers in 
106 hours to Vyasma and trap fifty-five Soviet divisions now lying 
behind it to the west. By October 12, Army Group Center would 
take a staggering total of 658,000 prisoners in two huge pockets 
formed during its initial attack. Only the muddy season, which began 
gradually about five days into the attack and lasted for five weeks, 
would halt the Germans and save the Soviets. 

Given the actual historical result of Army Group Center’s 
advance under the outrageous conditions recounted above in 
autumn, we can generalize that it would have advanced earlier in 
summer weather to success in the campaign and, by its timing and 
dimensions, victory in World War II. This generalization demands 
the following reevaluation of Hitler: His decision to advance against 
Soviet Russia was correct and necessary. Hitler could have made 
Germany impregnable only through seizure of the strategic 
resources and space of European Russia. His decision was so bold 
and fraught with consequence for history that it pressed him into the 
category of world-historical personality. His decision did not doom 
him to lose, rather it gave him clear and present opportunity to win. 
Within the ongoing campaign, Army Group Center had the striking 
power and physical location on August 14 to seize Moscow. There 
has always been a time and a place in history for everything. The 
time for Hitler and the Germans to have won World War II was in 
August, and the place was closely west of the enduring city of the 
vanished Dukes of Muscovy. As concerns Hitler, he made the deci- 
sion unwittingly to lose the war in surrounding diversions and 
eccentricities — Haider’s aptly described zigzags. As concerns Hitler 



as world-historical personality, he alone created Barbarossa, and he 
alone, in the face of resistance and legion objection, destroyed it. His 
utter loneliness in decision making from Munich 1938 onward, and 
the world-altering consequences of that loneliness in the inception 
of Barbarossa, place him in a category distant from the tyrant of the 
great biographers. 

Barbarossa had possibilities and consequences so great that it 
demands a fundamental reevaluation of the course of World War II. 
The German army attacked Russia to win. The army had the capa- 
bilities to win. The army placed itself in geographic position to win. 
These are historical facts. But the German army failed to win, and 
this failure has obscured the reality of August 1941 and replaced it 
with the reality of December. Historians have seen World War II as 
an exercise in early German victories followed by Hitler’s alleged 
mistake of the attack on Soviet Russia and a gradual downhill slide 
into defeat. No historian has made the interpretive point t